French Internet Users To Stage One-Day Boycott

The high cost of Internet access in France has
some users so fed up they have decided to stage a one-day boycott on Sunday,
to protest what they are calling excessive rates.

“France Tilicom is ripping us off,” says Nicolas Graeve, a spokesman for the
group IMC (which stands for French words meaning “A Cheaper Internet”).
“We’re asking people to turn off their modems on Sunday,” he said.

With cable and ISDN access still rare here, most French Internet users log
on through the France Tilicom’s local service. In addition to a basic bi-monthly
subscription of FF112 (about $20), local calls cost about $3 per hour from
8a.m. – 7p.m. and about half that for night and weekend hours. So surfing the
Internet 40 hours in a month at standard rates costs $70-$130, not including
an ISP subscription. A 20.6 percent sales tax pushes the tab still higher.

On Nov. 30, IMC claimed to have the No. 7 most visted French-language site (out of
9,832 sites hosted in France), with 5,000 daily hits. IMC is sponsorsing a mailing list.

Linking with similar movements in other European countries, IMC organized
the boycott with ADIM (Association
of Discontented Internet Users, originally created to represent users of
France Tilicom’s Internet service, Wanadoo.

Since 1996, France Tilicom, 62% state-owned, has drastically cut
long-distance rates in response to fierce competition, but still has a
monopoly on local service. In late 1997, the company eliminated a night rate
for local calls after 10:30 p.m. that was three times cheaper than the
business-hour rate. Recently, in response to complaints, it began a special
Internet night rate (10p.m. to 8a.m.) called “Primaliste,” for FF4.37 an hour
(about 80 cents).

Boycott organizers say Primaliste is not cheap enough. They demand that
France Tilicom establish a FF200 ($36, or about 30 cents/hour) monthly flat
rate for four hours of daily Internet access. They also want
improved connection quality — for example, by increased access to
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines (ADSL).

For inspiration, Graeve points to Italy, where the parliament recently set
the hourly Internet access rate at the equivalent of about US 11 cents.

“We’re starting with much more conservative demands than that,” said Graeve.
“We’re not willing to do employ the Machiavellian tactics Italian protesters
used: Tens of thousands called en masse to overload the national
telephone servers.”

The Italian plan will not work in France, said a spokesman at
FranceTilicom’s corporate headquarters who asked not to be quoted by name, “”That kind of political decision to regulate costs is going to run into
problems under European law. How are they going to pay for it?”

He added he didn’t think IMC’s FF200 flat rate would make it either. French
competition laws forbid the company from offering local service at or below
cost, he said.

This argument hasn’t swayed protesters. Several major national organizations
have lent their support, including the French Families Organization, Rural
Families, the National Housing Confederation, and Worker’s Force Association
of Consumers (a labor union).

“This first boycott is a big test for us,” said Graeve. “There are 2-3
million Internet users in France. I’m hoping 800,000 will stay off on
Sunday. If it works, we’ll ask for more price cuts. If not we’ll keep trying.”

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