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Access in Central/Eastern Europe


April 21, 2000: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For information on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.


We have prepared an expanded and updated version of the report, "Bridging the Digital Divide: Internet Access in Central & Eastern Europe."  The report, supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute and prepared in conjunction with GILC, is available online at in both HTML and PDF versions.

The report addresses one of the most fundamental Internet policy issues -- the challenge of affordable access.  The Internet offers the promise of a global, decentralized, and user-controlled information society, but the democratizing potential of this medium will never be realized if the Internet is available to only a few.

This is a challenge faced around the world. In every region, progress is being made as governments, commercial entities, non-profits and grant-making bodies strive to expand Internet connectivity.  However, there are concerns that the "digital divide" is growing as the pace of change accelerates.

Focusing on the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region, the report highlights certain findings, which may have broader relevance:

*  A major barrier to Internet usage is the poor state of the underlying telecommunications infrastructure. Most people, particularly residential users and NGOs, currently are dependent on telephone dial-up connections to the Internet.   Throughout the CEE region, teledensity rates are low, service quality is often poor, and there are long waiting lists for installation of new telephone lines.

*  A second major barrier to Internet usage is the practice of per-minute charges for local calls.

*  In much of Central and Eastern Europe, due to the influence of the European Union ("EU"), telecommunications policy is focused on privatization and competition. It is apparent that these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the expansion of access to both basic telecommunications and Internet services.

* Countries seeking accession to the EU must commit to universal service. Under EU directives, the concept of universal service has been extended to Internet access. This is an important lever over national governments, but so far has not been reflected in concrete definitions of universal service or "affordability."

* Given the rapid technological changes that are afoot and the global boom in Internet development, there is an urgent need for the EU and other international and regional bodies to adopt more effective measures to bring affordable access to non-commercial users.

* A range of alternative access technologies, including wireless, fixed wireless, satellite and cable modem, hold promise of leapfrogging infrastructure deficiencies.

Many thanks to those who commented on the various drafts of the report. You are welcome to link to it and to recirculate or repost this message in whole or part.  Please contact me if you would like hard copies of the report by post.

Best regards to all,  

Jim Dempsey

Center for Democracy and Technology
1634 I Street, NW Suite 1100
Washington DC, 20006
voice: 202.637.9800      fax: 202.637.0968

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Last updated: April 23, 2000