RealTime IT News

Spain's Battered ISPs Join Forces

Faced with telecommunications giants offering free Net access, Spain's smaller ISPs are crying "unfair competition" and coordinating a common strategy for survival.

In the aftermath of free Internet access offers by the major telecommunications companies in June, many of the country's 960 registered ISPs have claimed a threat to their livelihood. They now call national meetings to adopt a united stance.

In the Second Meeting of Spanish Internet Providers this month, companies accused the major telecoms of dumping and unfair competition. The Asociación de Internautas later petitioned Spain's Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) to investigate the quality of "free" Internet services.

Falling short of forming an alternative network to compete with major providers like Telefónica, Retevision, and British Telecom, the independent ISPs have approved the creation of a Central Buyer to defend their common interests.

This Central Buyer would take on "the judicial function of an Economic Interest Group while maintaining the total independence of all the member companies and allowing operation with minimal costs," stated Juan Carlos M. Coll of the Internet Society's Andalusian chapter.

"Participation in the Central Buyer wouldn't be incompatible with belonging to existing associations and groups and could be the embryo of a something much bigger."

The idea reportedly has support from the the European Union and Spanish public entities.

Despite the great fragmentation of the Spanish ISP sector, the country's major operators are winning customers with "free" access to their infrastructure. Many of Spain's nearly three million netizens access the Net through networks like Telefonica's Infovia Plus, Retevision's Retenet, and British Telecom's Interpista.

"By producing an oligopoly situation in the ISP sector, where the big companies offer zero connectivity charges and control technology and quality of service, the worse the quality of their services the greater their profit," stated Don Vmctor Domingo Prieto, president of the Asociación de Internautas. "Given this low quality, users will be forced to stay online longer, thus raising revenue by way of phone and connection costs."

Last week, the association formally denounced the major operators before the CMT.