RealTime IT News

Spain Approves Flat Rate Net Access

After months of lobbying by Internet user groups, a Spanish government commission approved a flat Internet access rate on Friday.

With the use of ADSL technology, the phone company will be able to distinguish data from voice calls--and users will be able to surf the Net at higher data transmission rates for a monthly phone charge of about $30.

The cloud to the silver lining is that users must pay a $100 registration fee, plus $300 for an ADSL-compatible modem. Currently Telefonica, the recently privatized state monopoly, is the only company able to offer this technology.

"The basic rate is twenty times less what it cost to use the Internet back in 1995, when [the now defunct] Infovía was installed," said Spain's Ministry of Public Works and the Economy in a statement. "In 1995 the price was more than 100,000 pesetas ($667) and now with the implantation of the flat rate, it is being reduced to 5,000 pesetas ($33)."

While Spanish business users might be smiling, individual Netizens may have a tough time getting excited. According the Association of Spanish Internet Users (AUI), the average Spanish user currently pays the phone company roughly 3,000 pesetas ($20) a month for Net usage.

This is separate from charges to set up an Internet account with one of Spain's more than 600 ISPs.

"This will mainly benefit companies," AUI president Miguel Perez said to Noticias Intercom. "Nonetheless, we consider the starting price to be far from the aspirations Spanish home users have been defending."

At an Internet users conference last month, development minister Rafael Arias-Salgado stated that $30 still seemed high for a flat rate fee, but that it was a step in the right direction.

Two additional monthly flat rate plans, exclusively for business users, will be available for $60 and $125.

At present, fewer than 30 percent of Spanish households can take advantage of ADSL technology--and thus the flat rate. The Ministry of Public Works and the Economy will oversee Telefonica's wiring of the remaining 70 percent in 2000 and 2001. Spanish regulations prohibit Telefonica from entering the nascent Internet cable market.

Though Spain's telecommunications sector has been liberalized, the government still has some say over competitive practices and rate changes. Flat rate activist groups have called three separate "Internet strikes" in the past year, eventually forcing the government to the bargaining table.