The Greek telecommunications market is set to grow by more than 8 percent in the coming years, underlining the massive prospects in the industry following deregulation last year, Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis said yesterday. According to statistics from the European Information Technology Observatory, the Greek telecommunications market was worth 5 billion euros last year, accounting for slightly more than 4 percent of national output. The value of the sector was on par with Austria and Portugal but lagged behind the UK and Germany. «The domestic telecommunications industry is projected to expand at a rate more than double GDP growth in the coming years,» Verelis noted. Such prospects are based on the fact that current per capita telecommunications spending amounts to just 570 euros against the average European figure of 750 euros. National output in the next three years is expected to average out at around 4 percent. The minister said the Greek telecommunications industry has the power to become the hub for the Balkans, especially after its full deregulation last year and with new entrants due to make their debut this year. The sector is expected to see total investment of 2 trillion drachmas in the next three years, creating 20,000 new jobs in the process. He said the government has taken all necessary steps to ensure that the telecommunications market is truly liberalized, one example being the granting of more than 30 telephony services permits last year. Thirteen of the companies who received licenses for fixed-line services in 2000 are due to make their debut this year. OTE got a taste of competition on its home turf this week as Internet service provider and aspiring telecoms operator Forthnet launched fixed telephony services to household users. The minister said OTE has prepared for intensifying competition by upgrading its lines to digital status. In 2000, the company had digitalized 93.4 percent of all its lines. Rates are currently being modified in line with international practice. The latest tariff rebalancing, which comes into effect this Sunday, shaved 11 to 23 percent off local and long-distance calls but jacked up fixed charges. Leased lines also became cheaper by up to 42 percent. Verelis said one significant change symbolizing the new environment is the election of OTE’s managing director by shareholders at the annual general meeting in March, breaking with the tradition whereby the government appointed the telecom head. He also said the government has no immediate plans to reduce its 41.7-percent stake in OTE.