German Internet strikers claim success

The initiators of Germany's Internet strike have declared it a success, claiming there was 70% less traffic during Sunday's one-day boycott. They also are planning another strike this Sunday. But Deutsche Telekom, against whom the strike was aimed, says Internet traffic levels were exactly the same as usual. The 24-hour boycott was held to protest the high cost of making a local phone call in Germany.

The initiators of Germany's Internet strike have declared it a success, claiming there was 70% less traffic during Sunday's one-day boycott. They also are planning another strike this Sunday.

But Deutsche Telekom, against whom the strike was aimed, says Internet traffic levels were exactly the same as usual.

"We saw no change in the number of local phone connections or in the traffic in our backbone network," said Jörg Lammers, spokesman for Deutsche Telekom's service provider, T-Online.

The 24-hour boycott was held to protest the high cost of making a local phone call in Germany, which drives up costs for Internet use. An online German computer game club called Dark Breed e.v. last month called upon Internet users to give up surfing on November 1, and for Web site operators to replace their usual page contents with a call to strike.

Dark Breed is demanding that Telekom charge a flat rate of 1 DM (60 US cents) per hour for Internet users. Strike initiator Thomas Treichel, a member of Dark Breed, said at a news conference that about 6,000 Web site operators took part in the strike, according to one German news report. Treichel could not be reached directly for comment.

Although first shrugged off by Deutsche Telekom as a stunt employed by a "special interest group," the strike has gained much attention from German television, radio and print media. And Telekom did indeed say last week that it would aggressively lower its phone rates.

But that has nothing to do with the strike, according to Telekom's Lammers.

"When we change our rates, it's because it makes economic sense, not because of a strike by some Internet game-players," Lammers said.

Internet strikes or boycotts have caught on quickly among European Internet users as a way to protest high phone charges by national telecom carriers, most of whom still hold a monopoly on local phone networks. In Spain, a September boycott spearheaded by the Spanish Internet Users Association lead to rapid concessions, with national carrier Telefónica de España SA slashing its rates for Internet users by more than 50%. Users in Italy also recently held a strike, and now a group of students in Switzerland says it will hold a strike on November 29 to protest carrier Swisscom AG's rates.

According to one recent IDC study, former and current monopoly holders in Europe have lowered long-distance rates in recent years, but have raised charges for local phone calls. For example, the average cost of a 10-minute local call has increased by 40% in Germany over the last five years, according to IDC.

Dark Breed, which has taken a close look at Deutsche Telekom's fee structure on its Web site, concludes that phone rates are disadvantageous for Internet users. For example, Telekom has consistently said that its tariff called City Plus -- which gives users discounted rates for up to five special numbers that the customer chooses -- are ideal for Internet users.

But according to Dark Breed, "The longer you use the Internet, the smaller the discount becomes. When you use 100 online hours, your discount is only 5%."

They also accuse Telekom of making "embarrassing excuses" for its higher prices vis a vis US telephone carriers.

Recently, Telekom managing director Detlev Buchal told IDG News that these higher rates are needed to invest in the infrastructure, for example.

"Everyone always looks to the US to compare us with," he said. "But in the US, the carriers are losing money, and that is not sustainable," he said.

But Dark Breed calls this "another fairy tale propagated by Telekom. With a few mouse-clicks in the Internet, you can see that US telcos make no fewer profits than Deutsche Telekom."

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