Prague - Czech authorities may soon be able to communicate with citizens, businesses and with each other through a public electronic network nicked eGovernment. Despite being faster, more efficient and environmentally friendlier, the scheme may in the end not be cheaper than communication via standard mail.
An amendment recommended for approval in the Chamber of Deputies by the public administration committee after a consultation with Deputy Interior Minister Zdeněk Zajíček stipulates that individual branches of government will pay for sending electronic messages and documents to peoples', firms' and institutions' secured accounts. These will be operated by Czech Post.
Costlier than standard letter
If the parliament approves the bill this summer including the proposed clause, one such secured message will cost the public coffers CZK 18. That is less than the CZK 26 currently paid for registered letters, but more than the CZK 10 paid for standard letters. After the system processes the first 33 million transactions, the price of a secured message will gradually decrease to CZK 9.90.
"The original plan was that the costs of running the system would be covered from the budget of the Interior Ministry and that municipal authorities won't have to pay at all. Plus the costs were supposed to be lower," says Dalibor Veřmířovský, the last deputy minister at the now defunct Informatics Ministry and a co-author of the eGovernment project.
"These prices are reasonable in comparison with traditional [registered mail] delivery. But if the public administration is to get more efficient, the [electronic] communication should be free of charge," says Miroslava Kašpárková from the Union of Czech Municipalities.
What are the actual costs?
Internet expert and journalist Petr Koubský believes that the proposed price of secured data transactions within eGovernment "are probably based on current prices of equivalent postal services rather than on the operator's real costs".
Czech banks today operate secured internet banking accounts similar to those of eGovernment. They charge clients a maximum of CZK 3 per transaction, with many transactions being completely free of charge.
Czech Post has already outsourced the operation of secured accounts to the country's largest telecoms company, Telefónica O2. It remains unclear how much of the revenue will be paid to the contractor and how much will be Czech Post's profit margin.
The national postal service claims the transition of official communication from paper to the internet will cut its postage revenue by up to CZK 800 million per year. The company expects its revenue from secured online communication will not be enough to offset the gap.
Today Czech public administration spends about CZK 2 billion on postage every year. The authors of the bill say that eGovernment will save 10% of this cost. The real impact of the digitalisation on the budgets of individual government branches and town halls will not be known until the system has been launched.