Web price hikes show dueling goals

Public outrage over the decision by OTE telecom to hike Internet charges by as much as 500 percent as of next month eventually forced the company to back down. After the proposed hikes were scrapped by the National Post and Telecommunications Commission (EETT), the state telecoms regulator, OTE is now considering the gradual introduction of price increases and lower pricing in areas with no access to broadband connection. However, the OTE statement failed to clarify the precise timetable for the coming adjustments. If the company now intends to push through a huge increase but impose it in two stages, the problem remains. So does the question of how OTE decided to impose such a sweeping leap in Internet fees in the first place. We should make clear that the charges for an EPAK connection, which offers users Internet access via a regular phone line, would not be huge – even if OTE had actually received the green light for the proposed price hikes. Charges would go up to 60 cents per hour. But even that would be too expensive compared to other developed countries. More embarrassingly, ruling cadres have never tired of repeating that cheap Internet access for students and young people’s adaptation to new technologies are top priorities for the conservative government. Moreover, it’s hard to see how the OTE management and the national economy minister arrived at the decision given the negative symbolism such a move would have in this difficult period. Did they see no contradiction between the government pledge to provide «Internet for all» and such exorbitant hikes? Did they perhaps underestimate the reactions because the actual amount would be small? Or did they realize the problem but sweep aside their reservations in their thrust for greater revenue? Whatever the explanation, the extent of the price hikes betrays a frivolous, or at least superficial, analysis of the issues involved. The government cannot portray the Web as a development tool and then impose a huge rate rise. The PM rightly called upon the officials who proposed the increases to explain their actions. If OTE considers current prices as consumer subsidies, it should ask the state to shoulder some of the burden. But it cannot impose such giant price hikes overnight.

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