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The cost of a good internet connection varies widely across the European Union, with countries around the Adriatic paying the most. Meanwhile, Romania, with a world-class network and competitive prices, is a special case.

Among the objectives of the European digital compass , the EU’s digital strategy for the coming decade, guarantees Internet access at 1 gigabit per second “for all”. Recently we discussed data from the second quarter of 2021 , noting that there has been a significant increase in fixed connectivity performance, but with significant disparities between territories.

However, connection speeds have nothing to do with “universal access”. To determine how accessible fast Internet connections are, we need to look at connection costs and the ability of citizens to afford such connections. ninth sustainable development goal , which foresees a significant increase in access to communication and information technologies, and universal access to affordable Internet services in less developed countries “by 2020” (9.C).

As the graph shows, the three countries with the slowest connections (Greece, Cyprus and Croatia) have some of the highest prices in Europe. A Greek citizen in 2019 paid a little more than a Spaniard to sail at quarter speed. In Croatia, the best deal was slightly cheaper than in Denmark, for a connection that was 3.5 times slower.

There is no direct correlation between prices and speeds. Indeed, some countries manage to have particularly low prices despite high performance. Romania, Luxembourg, France and Hungary have offers below 20 euros per month approaching download speeds of 100 Mbps.

As the map below shows, the countries around the Adriatic (Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy) have the worst price / download speed ratio.

The countries with the best ratio are Romania (11 euros for 98.6 Mbps) and Lithuania (8.71 euros for 74.2 Mbps), while the worst-off are Cyprus and Greece (both 34 euros for 21.4 and 23.4 Mbps respectively).

The picture grows more when we bring data on average income (Eurostat 2019 ) to our analysis.

Here, it is the countries of Eastern Europe, with Spain and Portugal, which have the short straw. In Croatia, the price of the best offer corresponds to almost five hours of work on an average income, as calculated by Eurostat (798 euros per month). In Portugal 3 hours and 47 minutes are required, in Slovenia 3 hours and 37 minutes and in Greece 3 hours and 22 minutes.

In only three countries, it takes less than an hour of work to pay for a month of internet connection: 44 minutes in Finland, 46 in Luxembourg and 48 in Germany.

Romania

Romania represents a special case among the countries of Eastern Europe. Internet performance here is superior to that of all neighboring countries, as it is clear from our dashboard . Several factors have contributed to this situation, including lack of enforcement, the high cost of available connections and a lot of digital nerdery.

At the end of the 1990s, connections in Romania were slow and expensive. The only alternative to dial-up connections (those using the normal telephone line) was too expensive for most of the population. So people started to create neighborhood networks (Rețea de cartier): Romanians could subscribe to an external provider, then create a local area network (LAN) between people in the same building. A few people with the right skills were in charge of running the network, receiving small regular payments in return, while the lack of regulations for wiring between homes and buildings allowed the system to hold more or less legally.

Romanians had access to a sort of “Neighborhood Wide Web”, with unthinkable performance for the time, at an extremely low cost (one subscription, distributed among users). This system had advantages and disadvantages: on the one hand, there were fast download speeds thanks to peer-to-peer software, which favored the (not always legal) exchange of music, movies and video games. , but the navigation could be very slow.

After a few years, some of these local networks united, some became real companies, which developed and sometimes competed for the coverage of different neighborhoods. The phenomenon is still widespread, although laws have been enforced to regulate the market and the management of networks, and the price of a “real” fiber optic connection has become more affordable.

One would think that this early diffusion would lead to an equally early development of online services and digital skills among the population, but this was not the case. According to Bogdan Manolea, executive director of the Romanian digital rights association ApTI (AsociaÈ›ia pentru Tehnologie È™i Internet), one of the limiting factors is the climate of mistrust towards the state and Internet security. Indeed, Romania comes last for interactions with public authorities: in 2020, only 13% of users used online services provided by public authorities, compared to 60% in neighboring Hungary. “This phenomenon also concerns online interaction with private companies,” explains Manolea. “Currently, online shopping with cash on delivery is the option widely preferred by Romanians.”

Current European policies, according to Manolea, put too much emphasis on connectivity and too little on the development of digital skills. “Okay, you have a fast connection, what now? If you don’t work on user experience, the net can be an empty box, and the web just entertainment.”

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