Olympic organisers to charge media £150 for internet

London’s Olympic organisers want to make at least £1.5 million out of journalists attending the 2012 Games by charging them for internet access.

The 10,000 accredited journalists expected to attend the London Olympics in less than two years’ time will each be handed a bill for £150 for two weeks’ internet access. Those covering the Paralympics will face a similar bill.

LOCOG’s levy – about US$225 – for two weeks’ access is around five times what their telecoms suppliers normally charge for broadband access for three months. London organisers, some of whom were criticised last week for paying themselves huge bonuses, maintain that their internet charges are “non-profit making”.

LOCOG describes the charges as “reasonable”, and claim it is because of the “sheer scale” of the event that they are staging.

It appears that the Olympic organisers view the working media as an easy source of added revenue to ease its creaking budgets, as was done at a recent world swimming championships and at the cricket World Cup in the Caribbean.

The charges, LOCOG says, are to pay for their “investments” in cabling every journalists’ work desk.

BT is LOCOG’s official telecoms sponsor (slogan: “Bringing it all together”), paying around £80 million in cash and kind for the privilege, in the hope of accruing far more than that value in favourable coverage from the media.

In the past, such as the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the international media, led by the likes of Reuters, AP and AFP plus News Corp, has boycotted all mentions of an event’s sponsors, and even ensured sponsors’ logos did not appear in photographs of the event, in disputes over accreditation conditions and overcharging for internet access.

London’s policy of high charges goes against the trend at the majority of major international sports events – including the recent football World Cup in South Africa – where accredited journalists are routinely provided with free internet access at venues and press centres.

The admission by LOCOG that they are to charge journalists for the service comes shortly after it emerged that they also plan to sell-off some media seats to the public.

The Sports Journalists’ Association wrote to LOCOG nearly six months ago, highlighting the high internet fees charged by the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and the negative publicity the organisers’ policy attracted to those Games.

LOCOG replied on Friday, on the eve of its World Press Briefing this week, when around 200 senior journalists from 30 countries are to be briefed on preparations for the Games.

Jayne Pearce, LOCOG’s head of press operations, wrote:

“A thorough review has been undertaken with regards to the needs of the media versus what can reliably be provided.

“It would have been relatively easy to provide a wireless solution at no cost.

“However, wireless is not 100% reliable and simply cannot serve the sizes of media contingent we have at multiple venues at an Olympic Games. LOCOG will provide a cabled solution in all working environments (this represents some 6800 tabled tribune desks, some 4700 Venue Media Centre desks and some 1600 Venue Photo Centre desks). In the past only the large international agencies had cabled access – they paid for a dedicated ADSL line at around US$ 500-600 per line! So all media at the London Games will have the ability to have access to cabled internet and Info+ on their laptop.

“In summary, for £150 media will receive:

• An 8 meg (both up and down speeds) internet connection for a 30-day period
• Ability to plug into each and every press desk at every tribune and at every venue media centre desk (the first Games ever to cable every seat)
• Ability for photographers to plug at each and every desk at every venue photo centre (the first Games ever to cable every desk)
• Wireless in all media lounges in all venues and in all media conference rooms in all venues
• Info+ available on laptops via this connection (known as myInfo+) – whether inside or outside a venue (again, the first Games to do this) – plus the ability to cut and paste data directly from the system
• Full technical support

“By opting for cabled access where practical rather than wireless we can ensure the robustness of the service.

“While some major events have indeed opted for free access we feel that this service, at an event the sheer scale of the Summer Olympic Games, is comprehensive, inclusive of many services not provided at such events and set at a price that is reasonable and non-profit making for LOCOG. There are many investments made by LOCOG and its suppliers, not least the extensive cabling mentioned above, to ensure this very important service.”