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As Greeks are cut from the Internet, can tech community throw a lifeline?


Capital controls are taking their toll on Greece as foreign vendors, fearing customers can’t pay them, are cutting off shipments. This means physical goods are no longer turning up in Greek ports, but it also means a big blow for Greece’s digital economy, which relies on foreign providers for everything from payment processing to domain names to basic computing powers.

Already, there are reports that major companies like Apple and PayPal are no longer accepting transactions from Greece since customers who reside there can’t make payments outside the country. This has implications not only for cross-border transactions, but also for digital commerce within Greece: how, for instance, can a startup stay afloat if it loses server access after failing to pay its Amazon Web Services (AMZN) bill? What happens when it can’t pay GoDaddy to renew its web address? And so on.

Into this void stepped Panos Papadopoulos, an Athens native who is now a tech investor in San Francisco. He has created a site called ZeroFund that wants to help Greek startups stay alive by paying for critical operational expenses like web hosting. Companies can apply for the lifeline by filling out this form.

The project has already attracted the attention of Silicon Valley top dog Marc Andreessen:

The idea here is intriguing. It represents a chance for the tech sector to put its money where its mouth is, and show that entrepreneurs can provide emergency economic solutions even where Europe’s dysfunctional government cannot.

Meanwhile, there is a large pool of general goodwill on the internet to do something to help the plight of average Greeks. A crowdfunding page called “Greek Bailout Fund,” which asked Europeans to make small donations in return for nominal gifts, raised nearly €2 million – well short of the€1.6 billion goal to pay off the IMF, but a surprising sum nonetheless.

In a perfect world, leadership from the tech world combined with the rise of people-powered platforms, could produce smart economic interventions that could mitigate the effects of the capital controls and incompetent government, which are dragging Greece into an abyss.

In reality, of course, saving a national economy is infinitely more complex and expensive than crowdfunding a local charity problem. And at worst, the online efforts could do know more than attract charlatans or bitcoin opportunists, and add to Greece’s humiliation by turning it into a laboratory for Silicon Valley “solutionism.”

But it’s still worth a shot.