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Czech ISPs Ready to Boycott Internet Discount Program

Citing unfair business practices, a group of 16 Czech Internet service providers have decided to boycott Internet 99, a discount program aimed at providing special telephone rates for Internet users.

Internet 99 is offered by Czech monopoly telephone company SPT Telecom. The program comes as a result of previous Internet user protests over the company's high fees for local telephone service and Internet access.

In November 1998, more than 100,000 Czech Internet users signed petitions and several thousand people took part in rallies opposing an increase in local phone rates, proposed by SPT. The company decided to offer Internet 99 as a special Internet access number with a cheaper rate. It was scheduled to begin this month.

The other Czech ISPs believe that Internet 99 is unfair to them because they would have to build two separate lines for normal and discount rates, which would cost a significant amount.

"The Internet 99 tariff is more expensive or just as expensive as the regular tariff for calls of less than eight minutes," the firms said in a joint statement. "Such calls make up the majority of calls."

SPT Telecom claims that it has based its discount on the assumption that most dial-up connections last for more than 8 minutes. It also emphasizes that ISPs were not promised the capability to run both numbers through a single line.

"ISPs are using their customers as hostages," said Dana Dvorakova, spokesperson for SPT.

The ISPs want SPT to start talks soon. Otherwise, they have several threats prepared: they're considering excluding SPT Telecom from NIX.CZ, an organization formed to establish local peering; they can cancel routing between their domains and SPT Telecom's; and moreover, they are considering filing a suit to the Czech Antimonopoly Authority.

For now, the only result of this feud is higher connection prices for all Czech dial-up Internet users. Czech customers currently pay $1.30 to $2.60 per hour for local telephone service plus extra for ISP service.



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