Estonia speeds ahead with Internet access

  • 2003-09-04
  • Jean-Luc Testault
AFP PRAGUE - It will literally be a two-speed Europe when eight former communist nations
join the European Union next year.
While a growing number of people in Western Europe enjoy high-speed Internet
access, enabling them to quickly retrieve music, games, photos and videos,
most people in the candidate nations connect to the Internet, if at all,
through slow dial-up connections.
There are exceptions. Slovenia is racing to catch up with the West, and
Estonia is already ahead of the game. But elsewhere in the East European
countries, both Internet access and high-speed connections lag behind.
Only 148,000 telephone lines in the eight countries enabled access to
high-speed DSL (digital subscriber lines) in the first quarter of this year,
according to Point Topic, a British research company.
High-speed access enables consumers to remain connected permanently to the
Internet while keeping a line available for ordinary telephone calls.
In Germany, which has a population slightly larger than that of the eight
East European countries combined, more than 3.6 million users have
high-speed connections.
The telecommunications market in Eastern Europe has been completely
liberalized, but the obstacles of state bureaucracy have not been entirely
Operators here have often been tardy in offering high-speed connections. In
the Czech Republic a long conflict between the state telecommunications
operator Cesky Telekom and the regulatory authority meant that high-speed
services were not offered until March of this year.
"The price remains too high for private users, which means that market
penetration will be limited until they come down," said Joshua Budd, an
analyst for the IDC market research company in Prague.
IDC says an average of only 14 out of 100 households in the East are
connected, three times fewer than in the existing EU member countries. In
Poland, only 8.5 percent of households have computers, according to the EU
statistics agency Eurostat.
The EU has set the goal of becoming the world's most technologically
advanced region within a decade and has emphasized the need to develop
high-speed broadband connections through deregulation of the
telecommunications market and lower prices.
Slovenia and Estonia have made determined efforts to reach Western levels.
More than 27 percent of homes in Slovenia have personal computers, according
to Eurostat, and the governments in both countries have set an example by
using information technology extensively in their daily work.
Estonia is more advanced than many existing EU members. It introduced a
program called Tiger Leap to equip all schools with computers and Internet
access. Citizens can consult the Internet from about 300 access points
indicated by the @ symbol.
Two years ago the government opened a Web site called I Decide Today, where
draft legislation is posted for comment and proposed amendment. Cabinet
meetings are paper-free. All documents are circulated via the Internet.
The Estonian Parliament has approved a law guaranteeing Internet access as a
constitutional right, and in 2005 citizens will be able to vote