E-Pressure through Internet against Monopoly

E-Pressure through Internet against Monopoly

M. Gregor (Charles University, Czech Republic)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch107
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Abstract

In November 1998, a Czech e-pressure group, Internet proti Monopolu (“Internet Against Monopoly,” or IPM), was founded in order to protest planned price increases by the monopolistic domestic telecom operator, SPT Telecom, on fixed-line telephony services. The increase would principally affect local fixed-line calls and, disproportionately, the increasing number of Internet users, whose access calls to Internet service providers (ISPs) are lengthier than voice calls. SPT proposed not only to raise the price for one local-call pulse, but also to shorten it. After four weeks of petitions, boycotts, demonstrations, and negotiations, the group pushed the telecom to ease the data-call pricing structure. The Czech Internet community—computer users, Web operators, and ISPs—thus got organized, which also persuaded the Czech government to modify its telecommunications policy, positively affecting the subsequent proliferation of the Internet. IPM, on its part, was unique in a number of respects: 1. Origin: The founders came from e-media and e-business 2. Flexibility: The e-movement was able to organize major protests just two weeks after establishing itself 3. General Support: An e-petition was quickly signed by 100,000 e-citizens 4. Broad-Based Boycott: A one-day boycott of the monopoly telecom’s services by ISPs affected 60% of Czech Internet traffic and was supported by 50% of Internet users 5. Online Organization: Public demonstrations were organized and propagated exclusively in cyberspace 6. Precedent: Although IPM was the very first e-pressure group in the Czech Republic, it was a significant success From a technical and economic point of view, the slightly better price package ultimately offered to Internet users may look like a minor victory in a minor war. We should consider, however, the unlikely circumstances under which it was achieved. Czech e-communities in 1998 had a weak political/civic orientation, and predominantly concerned technologies, games, and education. Moreover, e-communities in general have several disadvantages compared with traditional communities, such as anonymity, lack of incentives toward collective action, and inexperience. In central and eastern Europe in particular, social capital is rather depleted. Decades of communist governments had largely destroyed any sense of “civic society,” and thus genuine collective action. Furthermore, people quickly turned to strictly individualistic values given sudden (post-1989) free-market conditions, and rarely engaged in group activities. Civil activism was almost unheard of in post-communist Czechoslovakia and in the Czech Republic. Besides trade unionists and farmers, few others took to the streets in the 1990s. There was, in fact, only one major labor action (by state railway employees in 1995) in this decade of relatively low unemployment in the domestic economy. Moreover, the Czech e-population in 1998 was still small, and regulated prices were raised in other industrial sector as well (gas, electricity, water utilities, rental housing), so telecommunications was not a special case.

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