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International Report (April 2003)


Amsterdam Netherlands

Many European newspapers remain cautious about charging for online content. Of those that do, two-thirds still prefer to use credit and debit cards rather than more user-friendly - and often cheaper - payment solutions. This limits the range and type of services they can offer.

That's the conclusion of "The Guide to European Content Payment Solutions" (, a report published in February by Amsterdam-based digital media strategy company Van Dusseldorp & Partners.

By restricting themselves to traditional payment systems, the authors argue, newspapers are not generally able to offer micro-payment solutions, since using credit and debit cards for amounts below $5 is not profitable. Credit card companies generally charge 3 percent of commission on sales, plus a fixed minimum transaction fee anywhere between 50 cents and $4.

For example, the most recent pan-European newspaper to start charging was the Financial Times. While the FT offers a multilayer subscription model, it still only accepts credit and debit cards, and therefore provides no solutions for one-time visitors or single-purchase customer transactions.

While the report concedes that it’s difficult to convince users to register for and use alternative methods, it points out that two-thirds of those who try them are willing to do so again. Possible alternatives include prepayment to virtual accounts, charging linked to cell phones, or billing via premium rate-fixed lines.

The low adoption rate of alternative solutions, the report argues, is based on a mistaken belief that implementation is prohibitively expensive. In addition, there’s continuing suspicion about these methods.

Actually, in the current economic downturn, payment solution providers (PSPs) are more willing to negotiate on price. For instance, when the Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad installed technology from German PSP Firstgate, implementation costs were just $7,000. This allowed the paper to offer new paid-for online services at a relatively low setup cost. For users, this means that in addition to taking out regular subscriptions to print and online editions, they can now buy individual Adobe PDF copies of the entire paper or browse the archive for a time-based fee.

Other European newspapers that currently offer PDF versions online include the Spanish El Mundo and the Italian
La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. The German Rhein Zeitung and Dutch Telegraaf also use PDF-like software that allows users to read individual articles.

Nevertheless, not all those papers that supply PDF solutions provide user-friendly payment alternatives. Beyond card-based systems, for instance, La Repubblica offers only postal payment.


The U.S. has slipped from first to second as the country best placed to reap the economic and social benefits of the Internet, according to this year’s ranking of 82 nations by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Geneva-based independent organization.

The number-one slot goes to Finland (up from third place last year). Singapore is in third place (eighth last year), followed by Sweden , Iceland (second last year), and Canada . Taiwan is ranked ninth, China is 43rd, and Haiti is at the very bottom.

The report assesses economies’ network readiness by three criteria: the environment for information and communications technologies (ICT), including market conditions, political and regulatory framework, and the infrastructure for ICT; the readiness of individuals, the business community, and government; and the actual ICT usage by these three groups.

“The U.S. continues to offer the best market environment for networked readiness, but slips from first to second place due to less competitive performance in terms of connectivity and diffusion of ICT,” according to the WEF. “ Finland ranks first in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), boosted by the best performance in terms of technology usage by its citizens, businesses, and the government.”

The penetration rates of mobile phones and wireless data services in Finland (which has a population of 5.2 million) are among the highest in the world. Finland is also home to Nokia, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer.

Helsinki , Finland

Judging by the degree of oversight that Finns give to new Internet-related laws, the country is also highly sensitized to the legal issues that are raised by the global information infrastructure.

For instance, the Finnish government’s recently published proposals for a new law on “liabilities in public communications” sparked a vocal lobbying campaign that saw a coalition of Finnish telecom and media companies find common cause with consumer groups like Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI).

The proposed new law raised concerns about freedom of speech, privacy, and the legal liabilities of Web site owners and ISPs. For example, says EFFI, publishers and service providers would have been required to log practically all Internet traffic, archive all publications for up to 3 months, and monitor electronic discussion groups.

The law passed by the Finnish parliament on Feb. 17, however, was very different from the original proposal. The scope of retention is narrower than intended and archival time is significantly reduced now to just 3 weeks. In addition, any communication that has not been edited by a service provider or Web site owner will not fall within the law’s domain. And in an important modification of the proposal, ISPs will not have to police chat rooms and newsgroups. Also, the logging of Internet traffic is no longer required.

“There were a number of serious problems in the government’s [original] proposal,” says Kai Puolamäki, an EFFI board member. “Luckily, the parliament heard us and took our comments into account.”

“This is a second huge victory for us in a short time,” adds EFFI chairman Mikko Välimäki. “Just 2 weeks ago, we persuaded the parliament to return the local EU Copyright Directive implementation for redrafting.”

The Finnish government’s proposed implementation of the Copyright Directive was rejected by the legislature after heavy criticism from consumer groups like EFFI. Since Finland remains under an obligation to implement the directive, the onus is now on the government to propose legislation that parliament can find acceptable.

Finland is not the only country struggling with the Copyright Directive. Most of Europe ’s legislators are having difficulties implementing it, partly as a result of the controversy surrounding the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The hope is to avoid DMCA’s perceived excesses.

Hanoi , Vietnam

In order to reap the economic benefits of the Internet, the Vietnamese government will over the next 2 years commit $100 million to the information technology sector, with the aim of quadrupling the number of Internet users to 4 million by 2005.

At the same time, however, the country is tightening control on Web usage; introducing new regulations on how the Internet can be accessed; and blocking many foreign sites, including those containing pornography, violence, and criticism of Vietnam’s communist, one-party system.

According to the Associated Press, among a number of new regulations proposed by the Ministry of Culture and Information is a requirement that Vietnam-based Web sites obtain licenses and seek approval each time content is changed. Additionally, ISPs and owners of the country’s estimated 5,000 cybercafes would become responsible for monitoring customer activities.

The Internet has become an increasingly popular medium for pro-democracy critics of the regime. Last year, four Vietnamese citizens were arrested for utilizing it to disseminate unwelcome views and information: a former reporter for a communist journal who used the Web to advocate democracy; a doctor who translated and disseminated via the Internet a U.S. article titled “What is Democracy?”; a military veteran who got 12 years for espionage when found guilty of e-mailing information to “reactionaries” abroad; and Le Chi Quang, a lawyer who was sentenced to 4 years last November after being arrested in an Internet cafe in Hanoi.

Le Chi Quang was charged with “offenses against the state and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” for circulating via the Internet information condemning the government’s recent border agreement with China . Since he suffers from kidney disease, Amnesty International is concerned about his health. In January, the organization called for Le Chi Quang’s “unconditional release and access to appropriate medical care.” It also invited health professionals to write Vietnamese officials to express concern.

Amnesty International’s call to action has itself been widely disseminated over the Web, not least on the U.S.-based Web site Thông Lun. Run by the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism, a Vietnamese pro-democracy group, Thông Lun is a monthly magazine whose motto is “there are no ideas that are forbidden, no subjects that cannot be discussed.”

Vietnam is ranked 71 on the World Economic Forum index.

Düsseldorf , Germany

In early February, the public prosecutor in Düsseldorf ordered, a German domain-name registrar, to remove the domain name from its database on the grounds that the site glorifies violence and death.

Run by Dan Klinker, who is based in Amsterdam , features photographs and videos of autopsies and medical procedures as well as links to stories with headlines like “Woman Takes Bite Out of Man’s Scrotum.”

Siegfried Langenbach, CEO of Computer Service Langenbach GmbH, the company that runs, was reported to have said: “We received a letter from the public prosecutor telling us to delete the domain name. The letter cited paragraph 131 of the criminal code against the dissemination of violent content.”

However, while the domain name was registered in Germany , the content is hosted in the U.S. by Virginia-based Pro Hosters. Klinker, along with Pro Hosters CEO Ted Hickman, immediately transferred Ogrish to the new domain name They also began a campaign aimed at encouraging to unfreeze the domain and transfer it to Network Solutions in the U.S.

“ is owned by an American, therefore, the American First Amendment of free speech applies, so there’s no legal reason to ban the domain name,” Klinker commented on the Ogrish site. A similar statement was posted by Hickman on the Pro Hosters site.

In addition, Hickman e-mailed his comments to journalists. After several days of protest, media attention, and legal discussions, relented and released the domain, which is now once again engaged in its ghoulish activities.

This isn’t the first time that Klinker and Hickman have locked horns with the authorities over Web content. was briefly infamous in May 2002 after posting the 4-minute video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder in Pakistan by a radical Muslim group. When the FBI ordered Pro Hosters to remove the video, Hickman initially complied. However, following the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and considerable media attention, he subsequently reposted it.

The FBI claimed the video was obscene, but the ACLU disagreed. “I’m sure it’s macabre and horrible, but it’s not obscene,” ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt told Wired News. “The publication on a Web site of this videotape is protected under the First Amendment. Whether it’s wise or not, I’ll leave for others to comment.”

Wisdom aside, the activities and statements of Klinker and Hickman are not always honest. When I asked Klinker for clarification on the assertion made by both men that was owned by an American, he replied by e-mail that the false claim had been made to put pressure on “I’m born in Holland and reside in Amsterdam , and have always been the owner of,” he said.

Germany is ranked 10 on the World Economic Forum index.


The U.K. ’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published “Framework for the Future” (, a report on the future of public libraries in the U.K. It outlines the government’s vision for public libraries over the next 10 years and aims to provide them with a “modern mission.”

Thus, while libraries already deliver basic access to the Internet, the report believes their role could be expanded with services to host Web sites for local community groups, facilitate online community discussion groups, publish local authors and poets, and guide people on the vast array of information available online.

The assumption, explained Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone, is that libraries should play “a central role in helping people from all walks of life to be part of the communications revolution sweeping the world.”

The report showcases libraries it considers to be leading the way, including those in Peckham, Norwich , and Bournemouth . It also highlights the work being done by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is creating the Idea Store, a new kind of library (

Intended to reinvent the public library, the Idea Store envisions providing drop-in IT facilities, a cafe with a video wall, art performance areas, and child-care. With plans to create a network of seven Idea Stores across the borough, Tower Hamlets launched a prototype at Bow in May 2002.

The U.K. is ranked seventh on the World Economic Forum index.  

This article has been reprinted in its entirety from the April, 2003 issue of Information Today with the permission of Information Today, Inc., 143 Old Marlton Pike, Medford , NJ 08055 . 609/654-6266,

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