RealTime IT News

Netizens Cast Shadow on Spanish Elections

In their bid for Spain's highest office, candidates in Sunday's general elections will have to contend for the votes of a new but increasingly vocal lobby: Spanish Netizens.

Amidst demands for flat rate Net access and greater regulation or deregulation of the telecommunications sector, presidential candidates of all political stripes are responding to voters who demand to know how the Internet fits into their party platforms.

One mudslinging election issue is Telefónica (mothership of Terra Networks, SA), the public utility whose privatization under the rule of President Jose María Aznar's Popular Party (PP) has drawn accusations of cronyism, "acting like Robin Hood, only backwards."

An election year first, parties abandoned the traditional "poster pasting" to christen their campaigns digitally, and major candidates lined up to field questions in online chats moderated by El País Digital.

Joaquín Almunia, main opposition candidate for the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers Party, said he would bring 3,000 peseta ($17) monthly flat rate access by eliminating Telefonica's monopoly over local access, making ADSL technology more widespread, and ensuring that users benefit through competition.

"Right now there is no competition," he said online. "He who benefits is he who manages the monopoly." Almunia has also called for a windfall tax of nearly $3 billion on Telefónica and other privatized companies, to be used for social security.

"Thanks to the Popular Party government's liberalization policies we have many more operators," said a statement by Aznar's party. "And in the realm of local calls -- the ones used by Internauts -- cable companies are starting to compete."

New operators like Jazztel, Uni2, and Retevisión currently offer Net access through Telefonica's borrowed lines. In several Spanish regions, cable companies are offering Internet, telephone and television services.

Despite its defense of subsidized Net access for schools, post offices and other public sector entities, the PP said it hasn't rushed to apply flat rate Net access to the population at large because doing so without "adequate technology" would collapse local phone networks, thus harming both Internet and voice clients.

According to the influential Catalonian coalition Convergencia i Unio, "the Administration must be accessible through the Internet. All its forms must be available online and documents signed electronically must be accepted."

In addition universal e-mail and Net access, the group promises improved access speeds at a minimum of "20 kb, 98 percent of the time."