Czech internet turns 25

The early days had slow connections, high prices and few Czech pages

The internet arrived in then-Czechoslovakia on Feb. 13, 1992, with Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT) having the first connection. From that humble start it has spread to where it is now an essential part of almost every business and home.

The introduction, though, was gradual. In the 1980s and early 1990s there were experiments with networks such as FidoNet, EUnet and EARN. The first internet experiments in Czechoslovakia came in the fall of 1991.

Before the public gained wide access to the internet to share kitten and puppy pictures, it was meant as a way for higher learning and research institutes to share data and valuable information. The earliest infrastructure in Czechoslovakia was between Prague and Brno, the country's two main centers of learning. The project was backed by the Ministry of Education and was called FERNET (Federal Educational and Research Network), as Czechoslovakia was a federation at the time. Perhaps because Fernet is famous brand of liquor, and it seemed like an inappropriate product placement, the name was changed to FESNET. After the split of Czechoslovakia, the network in June 1993 became CESNET (Czech Educational and Scientific Network).

What slowed spread of the internet to the general public was the legislative framework. One company, Eurotel, initially had a monopoly. That monopoly was later sold to SPT Telecom. There was also initially competition from dial-up bulletin boards called BBS, but those lost out in popularity.

Connection rates were very slow and subject to constant interruptions. The number of Czech-language pages was limited and there were very few search engines that yielded good results in Czech.

Czech newspapers and other established publishers began to launch sites, and a new breed of web-only publishers began to give them competition.

But costs for the user were high in part due to the monopoly, though they had dropped slowly and speeds improved. Joint action against SPT Telecom to force the market to open to competition began in 1998. Alternative operators, cable companies and mobile operators then got in on the market.

According to the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) three-quarters of people aged 16 and over, or 6.6 million people used the internet in 2015. However, only 3.1 million households had a personal computer.

Smartphones are now used by some people as a primary way of accessing the internet. In 2015, 37 percent of the adult population (3.2 million people), used a mobile phone to reach the internet.

According to CZ.NIC last year the number of registered internet domains with the Czech national ending “.cz” reached 1.28 million.

Luxemburg leads the EU in internet penetration by number of households, and Bulgaria is in last place. Estonia leads among the CEE countries. In 2007, a majority (55 percent) of households in the EU-28 had internet access for the first time. This proportion continued to increase and in 2015 reached 83 percent.

As of the beginning of 2015, some 79 percent of all individuals in the EU-28, aged between 16 and 74 years, used the internet at least once within the three months prior to the survey. At least nine out of every 10 individuals in Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden used the internet. By comparison, around two-thirds of all individuals aged 16 to 74 used the internet in Poland, Greece and Italy, with the share falling to 57 percent in Bulgaria and 56 percent in Romania.

The proportion of the EU-28’s population that had never used the internet was 16 percent in 2015, down from 37 percent in 2007.

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