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<nettime> Yugoslavia: Hackers 1, Telekom 0
Slobodan Markovic on Tue, 21 Aug 2001 18:47:55 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Yugoslavia: Hackers 1, Telekom 0

[...forwarded from  www.internodium.org.yu  mailing list. 
original from "transitions on-line"  --sloba]


----------  [snip]  ----------

Subject: [internodium] TOL: Hakeri 1, Telekom 0
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 11:41:13 +0200


Yugoslavia: Hackers 1, Telekom 0
20 August 2001

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia--Ticked-off hackers proved to be a revolutionary force
in their own right when they took on Telekom Serbia. Hackers threatened to
disrupt Internet and phone service and succeeded in cutting off connections
for several hours in protest against the telephone monopoly's recent price
increases and system changes.

Phone service in Yugoslavia has long left a great deal to be desired,
particularly in the area of customer service. Bills are not itemized, and if
payment is more than six days past the due date, there is a good chance phone
service will be cut off.

However, another deeper feeling of bitterness among citizens has little to do
with opaque bills or quick shut-offs. The first privatization of the phone
company occurred in June 1997, and though sanctions were still in place,
Italian and Greek companies managed to purchase a part of the phone system--a
transaction that many in Yugoslavia viewed as enriching the regime and former
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's war chest. Resentment had simmered
for several years, but as the phone company has begun to implement price
increases in recent months, long-held irritations have surfaced.

On 30 May, Telekom's board of directors decided to raise the prices of
telecommunication services in Serbia. The decision, approved by the Serbian
government, provided for a 48.5 percent increase on 1 June, another on 1
August, and finally a 26.5 percent increase on 1 November. The first price
increase went into effect smoothly, but the second one angered consumers,
especially Internet users. By the time the enormous new phone bills had
arrived in mailboxes, it had become a common conversation topic.

Complicating matters was the widespread contempt for the service. When rates
were cheap, there was little grousing, but people were now wondering why they
were being forced to pay more for such shoddy service, particularly the
abrasive customer relations. Telekom had also altered its tariff system.
Previously, all local calls were charged at the rate of a single "pulse" for
two hours during the afternoon and also during night hours.

Under the new rates, the meter runs for the entire night, at half the price
of daylight calls. That particularly impacted Internet users. Instead of 0.30
Yugoslavian dinars for one hour of phone usage, the price increased nearly
twenty-fold to 5.50 Yugoslavian dinars ($1 = 68 Yugoslav dinars). In
addition, Internet time costs approximately 30 dinars per hour, which means
that 50 hours of nighttime Internet would cost around $20. Unlimited Internet
service costs approximately $30 per month, plus the Telekom toll charges, and
businesses face even higher charges (the average monthly income in Serbia is
approximately $70.) Techies were outraged, and response was swift.

The first hacker threat was published in Belgrade daily Blic on 11 August.
The threat gave Telekom 168 hours to restore the old tariff regime, after
which cyber attacks would be launched. Hackers also threatened to physically
disable the system by cutting down poles and wires. On 10 August, Internet
browsing had been impossible for two hours, and the hackers claimed
responsibility. One of Telekom's officials acknowledged the first attack but
stated that it had come from Italy. Belgrade prosecutors filed charges
against unknown persons for sabotaging Telekom's link to the outside world
and "damaging Telekom and other Internet service providers in Serbia."

Other Telekom officials denied that there had been any attack and stated that
they were prepared for any attempt to flood their lines. Once the first
threat became public, other hackers and wannabe-hackers joined in, and soon
news and information sites began to carry downloadable files for
do-it-yourself attacks. For the less sophisticated user, there were helpful
tips such as "do not do this from your home, go to a cyber café or other

Discussion groups dedicated to cyber life were full of negative reactions to
Telekom policies. At one of the most-visited web groups, one administrator
suggested a flat monthly tariff option for internet users of about 8 USD,
plus special phone numbers for the ISP dial-up modems.

Some Internet users fear that the increased rates are an attempt to squeeze
in more legal regulation of telecommunications. But Dragor Hiber, the
president of the management board of Telekom, said that the price corrections
are necessary since they were part of the contract between Telekom and Greek
"OTE" and Italian "STET," who own a combined 49 percent of the shares.

Although there have been rumors that the questionable legal nature of the
contract between Belgrade and Rome and Athens will be investigated, nothing
serious has been undertaken so far. On 13 August, Hiber was still reminding
consumers that the third tier of the price increase was due to take place on
1 November. The following day in an interview with B92, Hiber claimed that he
had been misquoted by Serbian media sources. He said that in reality the
third price "correction" would not occur until next year, "after the effects
of the first two."

On 17 August, the day the hackers' ultimatum was due to expire, the Serbian
government publicly recommended that Telekom consider a compromise by
offering more intervals between impulses--in effect, a slow down on the
meter--which would mean five hours of toll-free service per month. The
following day, the Telekom management board agreed to accept the suggestion,
and the Italian and Greek partners are due to give their answers within a
very short time as well. For now at least, the revolution in cyber-space
appears to have won a victory.

--by Dragan Stojkovic


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