Spanish Netizens Strike for Flat Rates

Fighting to replace per-use dial-up charges with an
American-style flat rate, Spanish Net users let their fingers walk the
picket line in virtual “strikes” against the phone company.


With the slogan “Don’t Call, Don’t Answer, Don’t Connect,” users
nationwide boycotted Telefonica de Espana, S.A., on Sept. 3 and Oct. 3.
Strikers stayed off the Internet and kept phones off the hook. Strike
leaders now prepare to negotiate with politicians and industry leaders.


“The important thing we’ve achieved with this is that the Internet
is now recognized as a different medium, one that can’t be charged at the
same level as voice calls,” said Juan Gabriel Covas, co-coordinator of
Grupo Tarifa Plana (GTP). “Obviously a flat rate for voice calls would also
be ideal, but it’s been hard enough for us to make it understood that we
need a flat rate for the Internet.”


Despite current liberalization of Spain’s telecommunications
sector, the former state monopoly still controls local phone access,
billing calls by usage time.


The strikes, organized by a coalition of the GTP, Fronteras
Electronicas, Plataforma La_huelga, and Plataforma Tarifa Plana,
protested the decision of the Spanish Ministry of Public Works and the
Economy to raise Telefonica’s rates for local calls over 160 seconds by
13.2 percent.


Miguel Perez Subas, president of the Association of Spanish
Internet Users (AUI) called the decision “a serious danger to the
development of the Net and electronic commerce in Spain” because it could
double the phone bills of Net users. The AUI voiced last-minute support for
the strike of Sept. 3.


After meeting with the AUI, Telefonica announced its Discount Plan, with
discounts of up to 51.85 percent, on Sept. 15. Also, proposed BonoNet and
MasterNet plans would sell vouchers for blocks of Net connection times.


GTP denounced the plans as marketing gimmicks and is preparing
letters to pressure President Jose Maria Aznar, Telefonica,
and the Ministry of Public Works and the Economy into formal negotiations
for a flat rate. Spain’s Congress has expressed support for a flat rate,
but strike-prone user groups will continue lobbying the government and
Telefonica until the adoption of concrete measures.


“In the heat of the moment people talk about aligning with the
German and Italian strikes of November 1, but right now is not the time,”
says GTP’s Covas. “At this point we can’t jump into another mobilization.
We’re in that period just after the strike where we all have to move our
pieces.”


Disgruntled ex-users of NetSpain, a failed flat-rate provider,
formed the GTP on Aug. 22 to defend the cause of flat-rate Net access.
The unofficial group has since grown to more than 3,000 members and
coordinates protests with a coalition of more than 10,000 users. It is
currently applying for legal status.

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