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Infovek gets 35 million crown gift

Thanks to parliamentary lobbying by members of the ruling coalition Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), Project Infovek - a plan which hopes to provide Internet access to every secondary and primary school in Slovakia within five years - has been given a huge cash boost. While requesting only 45 million Slovak crowns from the Education Ministry's budget for the year 2000, Infovek was actually given 80 million Slovak crowns ($1.8 million) in the state budget approved last December, a full 35 million crowns more than their original request.
"We are extremely excited," said Beata Brestenská, the director of Infovek's education division. "We feel very positive about the future of Project Infovek."


Peter Sýkora (centre), co-founder of Project Infovek, at the November 25 ceremony marking the opening of the first Infovek Internet server.
photo: Courtesy of Infovek

Thanks to parliamentary lobbying by members of the ruling coalition Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), Project Infovek - a plan which hopes to provide Internet access to every secondary and primary school in Slovakia within five years - has been given a huge cash boost. While requesting only 45 million Slovak crowns from the Education Ministry's budget for the year 2000, Infovek was actually given 80 million Slovak crowns ($1.8 million) in the state budget approved last December, a full 35 million crowns more than their original request.

"We are extremely excited," said Beata Brestenská, the director of Infovek's education division. "We feel very positive about the future of Project Infovek."

Infovek's co-founder Peter Sýkora told The Slovak Spectator on March 14 that project organisers had originally hoped to provide the hardware, software and fixed lines to connect 110 schools to the Internet this year. However, after receiving the unexpected cash, Infovek now expects to connect over 200 schools in 2000, adding to the 79 schools they connected last year on a 20 million crown budget.

After a celebration was held to mark the opening of the first Infovek Internet server on November 25 in Bratislava, Sýkora said, government officials like the SDĽ's Jozef Migaš and Ľubomír Andrassy began to realise the importance of providing Internet access to young Slovaks. It was Andrassy, for example, who last December encouraged parliament to allocate the additional funds to the project.

Sýkora said that the Infovek organisers would not rest on their laurels or their unexpected windfall. Indeed, he recently sent a letter to European Union Commissioner Romano Prodi requesting a PHARE grant of 45 million Euros for the project. Representatives of the Bratislava European Commission centre said on March 15 that they had not yet heard of the proposal.

Infovek organisers have also recently recruited the help of state telecom monopoly Slovenské Telekomunikácie (Slovak Telecom - ST) and the Norwegian Internet provider Nextra. Infovek had been critical of ST for the state firm's failure to offer support, but both sides said last week that negotiations had been launched that would have ST covering the costs of Internet connection fees.

"ST will soon donate money to cover the cost of fixed telecom lines for the Internet," said ST's Product and Services Manager Pavol Bojňanský on March 13. "We cannot simply give them free lines because as the dominant telecom firm on the market the law states that we cannot offer different rates to different customers."

Nextra Director Dag Ole Storrosten said that his firm had also begun negotiations with Infovek that would make Nextra the official sponsor of the project. Storrosten said that the sponsorship would entail assisting Brestenska in training educators to teach via the Internet, as well as providing lines and Internet access free of charge.

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