Brazilian Web surfers get organized

Brazilian Internet surfers are not alone
anymore. They now have their own consumer-oriented organization
to defend their rights in the huge sometimes downright scary
Information Superhighway out there. It’s the National Association
of Internet Users which already has close to 300 members and it
is growing fast.

Marcos Manhães Marins

  • Internet in Brazil? The mere thought of it might be
    absurd for some people living abroad. Even more so if
    they have read about the difficulty of buying a telephone
    in Brazil and the hurdles to get a clear line and then be
    able to talk and to communicate without losing the
    connection. Even those who believe Brazil is
    technologically on a par with the First World nations
    don’t believe Brazilians are sophisticated enough to use
    all the resources of the Internet.An example of this
    reasoning can be seen in an article about the Internet in
    Brazil published July by Ieee/Spectrum, an
    electric engineering British magazine. Says the
    publication: “Few Brazilians will find immediate use
    for the vast amount of commercial data that is indeed
    available on the Net… There is little evidence of any
    effort yet in either the public or the private sector to
    create content in Portuguese that may help average
    Internet users run their lives or business a bit more
    efficiently… It is no surprise, then, that a connection
    to the Internet, even more than the possession of a
    cellular telephone, has become the status symbol among
    the middle and upper classes in Brazil …”Carlos Duarte, a Brazilian computer scientist who
    lives in London, wrote me about how disappointed he felt
    reading those comments: “We know how vital the
    Internet in Brazil has become. According to the latest
    issue of the journal Communications, the Brazilian
    Internet has the highest growth rate in the world.
    However, the statements published in Spectrum do
    not appear to recognize the value of its users to the
    same extent. Certainly, the article deserves a
    response.”

    The best answer to these and other similar questions
    about Brazil is to show the world our country is not any
    more that jungle Pedro Álvares Cabral found five
    centuries ago when Portugal “discovered” our
    land. Unfortunately, we have always to deal upfront with
    these prejudices and misconceptions, but certainly some
    people reading this do not know much about Brazil besides
    the fact that the country a four-time-champion at the
    Soccer World Cup.

    It’s true we have social problems because we have
    built here two “brazils,” one very rich and one
    very poor. But on both “brazils” people are in
    visual touch with the “state-of-the-art”,
    because people here may be starving but all of us watch
    TV, from the filthy rich to the favelas’ (shanty
    towns) inhabitants. The Internet is nothing new. Since
    1989 our Universities were tinkering with the new
    communication technology and the public in general are
    familiar with it since mid-1995, when the Government
    authorized private companies to provide connection
    services. That was the very same year the World Wide Web
    (WWW), that graphic colorful way to access the Internet,
    was just being experience first hand by people all over
    the planet.

    We are now a world of more than 400,000 users and
    there estimates that we will be 1 million users, very
    soon, maybe by the end of this year. According to
    Ministry of Science and Technology, there are in Brazil
    today about 400 Internet Commercial Providers and more
    than 30.000 hosts (computers linked through a Domain
    Name) and over 10,000 WEB pages. On TV it seems there is
    an ad from Internet-ready computers in every program
    break. Explode Coração, a very popular novela
    (soap opera), has shown characters talking (mind
    you, not writing) through the Internet while pacing on a
    large living room (can your computer do this?) for
    more than six months to 60% of 150 million Brazilians.

    However, as in any other country around the world,
    Internet providers tend not to follow rules, due to a
    virtual lack of real laws concerning their activities.
    Since the Internet is a newborn market, laws are still
    being discussed and questions like copyright, freedom of
    speech, commercial transactions and many others are still
    open to debate.

    Fortunately, in this day and age, Carlos Duarte and
    other Brazilians together with all those interested in
    Brazil can count on an organization created specifically
    to defend Brazilian Internet users’ rights, the

    ANUI (Associação Nacional de Usuários da Internet
    — National Association of Internet Users). He got to
    know its address through the Net and found at ANUI
    hundreds of new fellows, his peers of same ideals, an
    authentic movement of liberation of Brazilian Internet
    users.

    How it all started

    Some mailing-lists administered by the Brazilian
    pioneer provider, IBASE-AlterneX, called
    “apc.tribos” had been opened to outside users.
    There, the Brazilian pioneer Internet surfers could
    express freely their opinions about the quality and
    methods of the Internet services. On April 20, it was
    started a thread (Internetese to designate a series of
    messages dealing with the same subject) called “The
    provider role: A proposal for a broad discussion”
    which was joined by 40 people.

    That was the embryo from which the association
    developed. This unexpected interest to settle down some
    concepts such as minimum package of services and minimum
    standard of support a provider should offer led
    participants to think of creating an association of
    users. This association began with its own mailing-list
    and a homepage in cyberspace. Messages were posted to
    mailings lists such as the Webras-L at the University of
    Campinas (Unicamp) and other “tribes.” São
    Paulo’s Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), an economic
    think tank, heard of our efforts offered space to shelter
    the cause.

    In June, while FGV was preparing software to open a
    listserver account to ANUI, another thread appeared on
    that very apc.tribo.internet called this time: “For
    better providers.” People from the first thread
    joined those from the second and now we had a group of 60
    users. We agreed on our name and we elected Paulo Rocha
    to coordinate the movement. He was instrumental in
    preparing the mailing list and the Website at Fundação
    Getúlio Vargas, but people started demanding more from
    the ANUI.

    Users urged more concrete actions, and on July 23rd,
    counting on the sponsorship of CinemaBrazil, the homepage
    http://www.cinemabrazil.com/anui.br
    was launched. At the same time the mailing list
    anui@artnet.com.br, sponsored by Artnet was started. The
    group today counts with 300 associates and we expect to
    be 30,000 by the end of next year.

    Can we help?

    But what an association of this sort can effectively
    do for its associates? This a frequent question in our
    discussions. Should ANUI take part in lawsuits, start
    lawsuits against bad providers, be an optional Consumers’
    Act defender? The best definition of what we do was given
    during one of these animated debates. “What are we?
    A kind of cybernetic Green Peace?”, wrote
    frota@manaus.pegasus.com.br Some people seemed to like
    this concept. Yes, ANUI is a sort of Green Peace, a NGO
    (Non Governmental Organization), a non-profit body
    spontaneously and authentically born seeking more quality
    and justice on the Net.

    An average net user in Brazil pays $30.00 a month for
    the basic service. The provider’s attitude seems to be
    one of “you are not happy go somewhere else. We
    don’t need your here.” Very different from the kind
    o service we are used to receive now from electronic
    products’ vendors, for example. In this case, consumers
    have the right to get the proper service, and when need
    can use lawsuits to guarantee this right. An electronic
    address at the Internet is similar to a home address. If
    you move all the time, you lose contacts, friendships and
    business.

    The association is intent on solving problems like
    that pulling together hundreds, thousands of users and
    going to the media if necessary. And what service would
    like to see its name on a list of ANUI’s bad providers?
    This will be a strong weapon for the association, which
    is collecting information given by the providers
    themselves and checked by ANUI associates. Our group will
    also be able to file class actions, with all users,
    members or not, benefiting from a favorable verdict.

    What’s the beef?

    The most common complaints are:

    1 – Technical support to users works just during
    business hours, from around 9 AM to 5 PM.

    2 – Prices are too high, compared with other
    countries.

    3 – Incomplete package of service. While certain
    providers offer Telnet facilities, other do not, the same
    goes for Newsgroup access, FTP, and so on.

    4 – Inadequate treatment by certain providers who
    ignore inquiries made by e-mail and refuse to teach how
    to use their services.

    5 – Limited authorization to use CGI scripts (programs
    that allow, for example, the search in databases)

    ANUI intends to take some steps very soon: urging
    improvement of services, requiring respectful treatment
    and, of course, and demanding freedom of speech.

    Through the virtual office of ANUI
    (http://www.cinemabrazil.com/anui.br) visitors may
    subscribe to the discussion list and submit their data
    through an on-line free registering form. They will
    receive weekly E-newsletters summarizing decisions taken
    by the Association. ANUI is also contacting associations
    of Internet users in other countries so that the criteria
    may be the most universal as possible, and many
    experiences and tools may be interchanged for the success
    of the movement. ANUI is not being created to be always
    on the opposite side of Internet Providers. We will be
    more than willing to clap our hands always we detect good
    Internet products and services.

    Who’s who

    Anyone who wishes to work together with the temporary
    committees for ANUI’s creation, is more than welcome. We
    can visit our homepage and write directly to some of
    those helping during the organization’s initial phase.
    Here they are:

    General coordinator: Paulo Rocha (ptrocha@bis.com.br )

    Vice-general-coordinator: Francisco Nobre (fnobre@hexanet.com.br
    )

    General Secretary: Hugo Peter Steiner (apogeo@inetminas.estaminas.com.br

    )

    Marketing/Image: Marcos Manhães Marins (webmaster@cinemabrazil.com
    )

    Mailing List: Eduardo Gudin Prado (edugudin@Enterprise.cybernet.com.br
    )

    FAQ/Weekly Digest: Fernando Newlands (newlands@mail.rio.com.br
    )

    Public Relations: Fábio Becherini (becherini@if.usp.br
    )

    Law Assistance: Marcelo A. A. Gama (magama@netalpha.com.br

    )

    We are a real Internet venture. Our WEB site editor
    (Luiz Siqueira — siqueira@ax.ibase.org.br
    ) is based in Rio but he receives information from
    volunteers in different states who make clipping of ANUI
    published articles and arrange media covering for ANUI’s
    events. Each volunteer is responsible for updating a page
    of the site, which he downloads often to his
    microcomputer at home or job, updates and uploads back
    again to the virtual server. This server is based in
    United States, but it’s owned by the Brazilian Cultural
    Project “Cinema of Brazil in the Internet,”
    avoiding this way conflicts of interest that could arise
    were the ANUI site controlled by a Brazilian commercial
    Internet Provider.


Other similar initiatives around the World

  • We did not know there existed other Users’ associations
    in other countries until we created ANUI. We were aware,
    of course of the affiliates of Internet Society/Blue
    Ribbon Campaign in favor of Free Speech on the Net, but
    not of the Associations (our future partners) of Users,
    such as those below:Germanyhttp://www.fitug.de – Informationstechnik und
    Gesellschaft e.V. (FITUG e.V.)

    Spain

    http://www.aui.es/ – Association de Usuarios de
    Internet (AUI)

    France

    http://www.aui.fr – Association des utilisateurs
    d’Internet (AUI)

    http://www.afui.uplift.fr – Association française des
    utilisateurs d’Internet (AFUI)

    BRAZIL

    http://www.cinemabrazil.com/ANUI.br – Associação
    Nacional dos Usuários da Internet (ANUI)

    Japan

    http://www.iaj.or.jp/ – Internet Association of Japan
    (IAJ)


  • Marcos Manhães Marins uses the
    Internet since September 1995. He is a graduate from
    Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and studied
    moviemaking at University of London and at the British
    Film Institute. You can E-mail him at
    cinemabrazil@ax.ibase.org.br or call his telephone (5521) 290-4593.
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