OPINION

Narrow minds on broadband use

Greece has broken yet another record in the technology race, being last among European Union states on the list of fast Internet users. Fewer than one in 100 users owns a broadband connection, compared to the EU average of 10 percent. The huge gap is easy to explain: Greece has the lowest number of fast Internet connections simply because it imposes the highest charges. The fixed charge for a broadband connection in Greece is 64 euros, while the total cost in Poland, that is, fixed costs as well as a monthly subscription, is just 20 euros. This is not a secondary issue. Broadband connections are essential to those who use the Internet for educational purposes as they can transfer large amounts of data at high speeds. Realizing the importance of fast/broadband connections, the conservative government said before the elections that it would provide students with cheap services. However, that government promise has remained a dead letter, as OTE, the Greek telecommunications giant, charges 15 euros per month for broadband services with limited downloading. It should be noted that an interministerial committee had proposed a 10-euro charge and unlimited downloading. The final offer is far from being any incentive to students. Greece’s last place in fast Internet use statistics inevitably has an effect upon its student population. And all this at a time when everyone is talking about the need for the education sector to catch up with technological developments. The root cause of the problem is the pervasive role of the state in the economy, particularly in the utilities sector and, in this case, at OTE. The organization’s high operating costs make it impossible to attract new customers by offering lower prices. Turning economic logic on its head, OTE has said that it will lower prices only after the number of subscribers has increased. At the same time, the company wants to be the exclusive provider of subsidized connections for students. This has, on the one hand, raised legitimate protests from private companies and, on the other, restricted the free market competition that would push prices even lower. The situation makes no business or economic sense. But the fact that it curtails students’ access to information makes it all the more unacceptable. It is unforgivable that Greece is a laggard in education because its public corporations have failed to provide services that are standard in other countries.