Achingly sluggish and hugely expensive to use, Web isn’t making waves

All of a sudden, the Internet and new technologies have turned into one of the basic leitmotifs of the pre-election period. George Papandreou with a laptop at hand and his own personal website and Costas Karamanlis at his ease inside Internet cafes, spouting proposals for cheap access, have drawn pistols in a kind of pre-electoral, El [email protected] shootout. In an age where image prevails over substance and virtual reality over reality, showing that you can use an MP3 player voids the need for political argumentation, while digital information highways have stolen the thunder from large pre-election rallies. This Internet-babble possibly hides the huge problems faced by Internet users in Greece: desperately slow speeds, high costs and low take-up on the part of state services. On the privatized (but state-supported) Hellenic Telecommunications Organization’s (OTE) watch, the cost of modern Internet services has risen to match those in the richer USA and rest of Europe. No amount of spin-doctoring on behalf of the primeministerial hopeful and future chairman of PASOK, with his much-advertised digital profile, can gloss over the huge delay in promoting the information society in Greece. «Greece is in the Middle Ages as far as Internet development is concerned,» representatives of the Association of Hellenic Internet Users (EEXI) pointed out. And while there have been major steps forward since 1994, when the Internet was still in its infancy, the gap between Greece and more developed countries has even grown. Today, only one in five Greek residents uses the Internet (or one in four, according to other calculations), a low proportion compared to the European Union average of one in two. If frequency of access is taken into account, then Internet use is at an extremely low level. At the same time, surfing the Internet is virtually a luxury item, when the cybernauts’ position on the social scale is examined. But something good might yet come out of this barrage of pre-electoral sensationalism: The problems might receive much-needed attention, and solutions be found.

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