INTERNET Service and mobile providers in Slovakia offer the latest in online connection technology, but only a small percentage of Slovak households are accessing the world wide web.
What seems to prevent people from hooking up is the cost of PCs, with only one-third of the local population owning a computer.
"Although competition pushes the price of a computer down 10 to 15 percent each year, the purchasing power and needs of the Slovak customer are such that we cannot be content. There is only an average 20 PCs for every 100 citizens," Pavol Prokopovič, the Telecommunications Minster, told the press.
"Our ministry is preparing a proposal to support entrepreneurs if they want to buy a computer and connect to the internet," he added.
According to a TNS SK survey, only 35 percent of the Slovak population over 15 years has a PC at home.
The share of PCs is much greater in the city than in the country. In larger cities the share of PC owners is about 40 percent, and in Bratislava almost half the population have PCs.
But in villages with 5,000 or fewer people, only about 25 percent own a computer.
The majority of people, 51.9 percent, think that computers are too expensive. Students are the people who would likely find the internet the most useful, but those in the 15 to 29 age bracket are unlikely to be able to afford one. Only 5.7 percent of those who do not have a computer said they were definitely planning to get one.
Internet providers point out that they are offering various forms of internet connection, including more affordable slower forms, as well as the dearer up-to-date technologies.
"Prices [for the internet] have decreased to a very low level as a result of competition, and they have become affordable for the majority of Slovak families, regardless of region," said Lenka Plavuchová, PR manager for internet provider Slovanet.
She pointed out that one of the main barriers to the spread of the internet is the over regulation of the telecommunications market.
"It is only the liberalisation of the telecommunications market and local loop unbundling that would create room for a further decrease in prices," she added.
"Currently there are various solutions for anyone interested in connecting to the internet. We consider the slow spread of PCs to homes and the lack of technical skills of potential users as far bigger obstructions," Slovak Telecom spokesman, Radoslav Bielka, told The Slovak Spectator.
Bielka thinks that the government could allow the purchase of a PC to qualify for a tax deduction, which could help the spread of PCs into households. Additionally, support for e-government projects, which use information technologies, would encourage greater use of the internet.
A Slovak customer can choose from various forms of internet connection.
Most internet service providers offer dial-up and broadband internet connections. ISDN is a dial-up service suitable mainly for first-time users.
ADSL, a broadband connection, is prefered by businesses.
Mobile operators EuroTel and Orange provide internet services through GSM and GPRS.
EuroTel, which is considered to be a leader in data services on the mobile market, also offers high-speed internet access based on HSCSD and EDGE.
EuroTel is the first and only operator in Slovakia to create HotSpots - places where you can connect to the internet through Wi-Fi (a wireless LAN network).
Orange, on the other hand is able to provide services similar to regular internet service providers.
Competition helps introduction of new technologies
The Slovak Spectator asked Slovak internet service providers and mobile operators for their insights into the Slovak internet market.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Which form of internet connection that you currently offer is most popular with your customers? Where did you record the highest year-on-year customer increase?
Radoslav Bielka (RD), spokesman for Slovak Telecom: Corporate as well as individual customers are mostly interested in broadband (ADSL). However, dial-up is also still popular. It is understandable. We cannot expect customers with minimal or no previous experience to start with high-speed internet connections.
Lenka Plavuchová (LP), PR manager Slovanet:The highest recorded interest from customers is for ADSL high-speed internet connection. Interest has doubled compared with the previous two months. The reason for such interest is mainly lower prices and better conditions for ADSL broadband connection.
Peter Tóth (PT), media relations manager for Orange: Customers are mostly interested in the Orange World service, based on GPRS, that combines internet connection through mobile phones and the computer.
Juraj Droba (JD), director of corporate affairs for EuroTel: The interest of customers is changing along with the development of new technologies. The leader in the area is GPRS but EDGE technology is also spreading. The interest of customers in SuperSpeed, based on EDGE, is increasing as well.
TSS: Of the technologies you offer, which is the most up-to-date?
RD: The broadband connection ADSL provides a connection with a much higher speed than the regular dial-up connection.
LP: Definitely ADSL.
PT: The World Orange service that uses GPRS technology. A customer pays for the volume of conveyed data and not for the time of connection, so that customers can be online and at the same time do not have to pay too much.
JD: The most up-to-date is undoubtedly SuperSpeed based on EDGE. However, we cannot forget Wi-Fi. EuroTel customers can use it at 17 locations - HotSpots - in Slovakia. Wi-Fi internet speed represents 2Mbps. We are also the only mobile internet provider that offers flat-rate unlimited use.
TSS: Is there a time lapse between introducing new internet technologies in developed countries and in Slovakia? If yes, how long does it take?
RD: The introduction of ADSL technology onto the Slovak market came later than the other new EU members, but thanks to its quick spread this year, price cuts in this segment, and strong marketing support, the gap is disappearing.
LP: The introduction of new technologies depends on the competitive environment in a country. In areas where the competition is healthy we follow the pace of neighbouring countries. In some areas like GPRS and EDGE, we are ahead.
PT: We have opportunities to use modern technologies thanks to being a part of the Orange group. Generally, we can say that there is no delay in the introduction of new technologies in mobile communication in Slovakia.
JD: I think we are in a very good position throughout Europe. EuroTel is not behind in the introduction of new mobile technologies. EuroTel is one of the five European operators offering EDGE technology. Currently, none of the Czech operators provide such technology.
Eurotel is also the only operator in Slovakia to offer internet connection through Wi-Fi and HSCSD.