Greece’s telecommunication services market grew by an estimated 6.6 percent in 2004 to a total of about 8 billion euros, bolstered by intensified price competition, especially in mobile telephony, the National Telecommunications and Posts Commission (EETT) overseeing authority said in its annual report, unveiled on Wednesday. The mobile telephony market climbed a healthy 16.7 percent to account for just over half of the total sector, reaching 4.2 billion euros. In fixed-line services, alternative providers saw their turnover shoot up 45.7 percent to 510 million euros, while that of the main provider, OTE, is estimated to have dropped 8.3 percent to 2.86 billion. The former monopoly, which now competes with about 15 alternative providers, had 84 percent of the domestic fixed-line market at the end of 2004. However, the overall fixed-line services market shrank, attributed to lower charges and the substitution of mobile for fixed-line services, EETT noted. The mobile telephony penetration rate rose to 84.4 percent of the population, from 80.9 percent in 2003, on the basis of the number of active users – from 8.9 million to 9.3 million. Reductions in fixed-to-mobile rates created significant gains for users, while Short Messaging Services (SMS) grew 13.6 percent to 4.5 billion messages from 2003. The number of internet sites registered with Greek addresses (gr) increased 10.5 percent, and the number of broadband access lines multiplied five-fold in the last semester of the year. Despite an also robust growth in ADSL connections, Greece still lags considerably behind other EU member-states. The regulator said in 2004 the country’s 270 courier service operators distributed 35 million items, against 31 million in 2003. The branch has grown by an average rate of 16.3 percent since 2000 and employs more than 9,000 full- and part-time workers. Sixteen courier companies were found to be operating illegally. EETT found that in the 2002-2004 period, the main postal operator, Hellenic Post (ELTA), on the whole succeeded in meeting the target of delivering domestic mail within three days. In contrast, delivery within one day was far behind the target set. Separately, OTE said in a statement late Wednesday that alternative carriers owed it about 75 million euros as of May 4, and it had set aside 19 million euros in 2005 as a provision for bad debts. OTE said some of the operators could not pay their debts while others had refused to do so. The company took a 17-million-euro provision last year to cover bad debts from carriers that had ceased operations. OTE said it would cut services to the companies as a last resort if they affected its financial stability.