RealTime IT News

Spain's Broadband Future Loiters in Cybercafes

[Madrid, SPAIN] While dozens of companies race for a place in Spain's broadband future, most consumers must limit their high-bandwidth surfing to cybercafes showcasing competing technologies.

Months after Cableuropa's "ONO" launched the first in a series of nationwide, cable-broadband cybercafes, Telefonica responded this month with N@veg@web, a projected network of 100 ADSL-based "public Internet access centers."

So far the Telefonica affiliate, Telefonica Telecomunicaciones Publicas (TTP), has set up one center each in the highly touristed cities of Madrid and Malaga. A 10 billion peseta ($55 million) investment of the next two years will build 98 more--starting next month in cities like Salamanca, Granada, Santiago and Leon.

In addition to PCs wired with ADSL technology, these "21st century call centers" will feature telephone terminals and office services like faxing, photocopying and printing. According to Telefonica, N@veg@web users "are concentrated in the 16-34 age bracket, are students, and have adopted Internet use as an indispensable too' for work and leisure."

For ADSL service in their homes, these same users would have to pay a 20,000 peseta ($110) installation fee, buy a 30,000 peseta ($165) modem and pay 6,500 pesetas ($36) in monthly usage fees. The only other fixed-telephony alternative can be found in the proliferation of mom-and-pop cybercafes running on ISDN and ADSL lines.

Broadband cable services remain spotty, with standard telephone lines accounting for roughly 95 percent of Internet use. ONO, one of the Iberian Peninsula's leading cable service providers, currently serves home users in 11 Spanish markets.

In order to give customers a taste of the "broadband revolution" to come, ONOLAB opened Spain's first "broadband Internet cafe" in November.

"We're offering people the possibility of using today the Internet everyone will end up using in a few years," ONOLAB CEO Jacobo Benbunan said at the time. "We think the broadband is the future and as of today we're bringing it to a greater number of people."

Fixed broadband services--divided between ADSL and cable--are expected to account for roughly 60 percent of Spanish Net usage by 2005. Most of the remaining 40 percent share is predicted for access via mobile telephony.

After Spain's telecom liberalization kept Telefonica out of the cable business to give new companies a running start, the former state monopoly embraced ADSL technology. While the government pushed the technology as the only path to a true, US-style flat rate, critics blast it as a sort of Band-Aid that addresses immediate concerns at the expense of building up a national broadband infrastructure.

"Let us hope that the cable companies, who are indeed investing in the installation of a broadband network (slowly and without exceptional quality, but they're doing it) gives us that wonder called high-speed Internet," said the IT watchdog Baquia.

"Left to Telefonica (and the government, which does nothing) Spain could be left missing out on another industrial revolution."