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European group to organize Net boycott

This weekend a group of online activists in Europe will lead an Internet strike, asking users to unplug phones and turn off their modems for 24 hours.

A group of online activists is leading an Internet strike this weekend, asking users in 15 European countries to unplug phones and turn off their modems for 24 hours.

Led by a group dubbed telecom.eu.org, the coalition is protesting the per-minute local phone charges common across Europe.

Unlike U.S. telephone companies which charge a single flat monthly rate for local phone calls--including those to ISPs--European companies commonly charge callers by the minute. This has limited the growth of Internet use, critics say.

The protest group is pressing for European telcos to adopt the flat-rate pricing model common in the United States. The group also is calling for the increased rollout of digital subscriber line (DSL) access and other high-speed Internet access options.

The group coordinated a similar boycott in 7 countries in January with mixed success, though the effort did earn the coalition media attention in Europe.

This time, however, the protestors have enlisted a powerful corporate ally. America Online's U.K. unit penned an open letter to its subscribers detailing the goals of the campaign, effectively weighing in on the side of the boycott organizers. AOL plans to work with the British arm of the group, called the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications (CUT).

"A Europe-wide telecommunications boycott is a high profile way of generating awareness," wrote David Phillips, president of AOL U.K. "We suggest that you show your support by lobbying [or] becoming a supporter of CUT, or getting your company involved in the campaign."

AOL U.K. also has created a new section on its Web site detailing its own lobbying efforts for unlimited local telephone service and calls to ISPs.

The boycott effort is being coordinated by local representatives in all fifteen countries. In many of the areas, the group has arrangements with ISPs to monitor Web, email, and banner advertisement traffic to gauge the success of the boycott. Users have been asked to not dial up or surf the net for 24 hours on Sunday.