RealTime IT News

Access War Hits Spain's Congress

Spain's parliament this week knocked down opposition parties' proposals for cheaper Net access, amidst allegations that the current government favors business users over home users.

In support of the flat rate demanded by user groups across Europe, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party and the United Left coalition offered separate proposals to fix home Net use at 3,000 pesetas ($20) monthly. The parties argued that Net use is a necessary public service that government should guarantee all citizens.

The ruling center-right Popular Party rejected both proposals, claiming that it already has a flat rate plan and that letting in lower-priced users would overload telephone lines. Also rejected were proposals to end the practice of charging consumers for failed Net connections.

Using the same "universal service" argument earlier this year, the government supported the implementation of Net access based on ADSL technology. The GigADSL service, which the former state monopoly Telefónica plans to extend to all of Spain by 2003, requires a special modem and monthly "flat rates" upward of 5,000 pesetas ($32).

According to Telefónica, "prices felt by the end user will vary between $50 and $200 a month," depending on the additional costs added by authorized operators or ISPs contracting the Gig ADSL service.

"ADSL is a bad formula, because it allows Telefsnica to hold onto its monopoly over providers," stated Socialist congressman Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. "Moreover, the technology will never reach every city because it's of poor quality and not profitable."

New companies offer reduced telephone rates, "free" Net access, and prepaid vouchers for fixed-time Net use, but most of these attractively packaged offers are ultimately restricted by the wholesale rates paid to use Telefónica's infrastructure.

"[ADSL is] an interesting offer for the business sector and for a small group of individual users, but it doesn't spur the definitive take off of the Internet in Spain," stated the Asociación de Internautas, a Net users' group. "Nor does it end the historic lag our country suffers in terms of number of users, electronic commerce, and the like."

According to the Institute of Home Computing, only 5.1 percent of Spanish homes have Net access.