ECONOMY

Reding says that Greece has made a leap in broadband Internet but must do more

Greece may lag behind in the Information Society, but has acquired a momentum that can bring it close to the European average, says European Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding in an interview with Kathimerini. You are about to introduce three main measures to the revision of the institutional framework, namely the operating spin-offs, the central regulation of the market and the management of the spectrum. Which one do you consider hardest to pass through the EU bodies? I believe all three measures are logical and make up a package. They are measures which will upgrade the telecoms market, mainly by opening up to competition. This way there will be more investment by market players, generating more competition and bringing better services and charging to customers. Alternative providers argue that the inconsistency in the regulation of the telecoms market costs 16 billion euros in investment not realized. On the other hand, the dominant providers say that the alternatives simply consume what is already there, as they invest in local loops rather than new technologies, hampering innovation and competitiveness in the EU. Where does the truth lie? Everything depends on the market. In the markets which are open, new entrants invest plenty of funds to create new infrastructures, and do so systematically. These are the markets operating best. It is where competition relies on infrastructures. In the closed markets, where there is a dominant player, no one will invest of course. However, doesn’t Europe remain technologically stagnant, depending on the dominant players, by investing in the local loop as an instrument to develop competition? No. This only happens in the beginning. New entrants can start utilizing the infrastructure of the dominant player and then invest in their own infrastructure. This way the newcomer is climbing the so-called investment ladder, offering new differentiated products and services. In the better-developed markets we always see competition relying on infrastructures. About a year ago you expressed the view that Greece lacks an Information Society strategy and desperately needs one. Do you think that something has changed in the meantime? I think that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in his government announcements showed clearly that he does not accept his country being a laggard in technologies. This is why certain important initiatives have been taken, such as that of broadband Internet across the country, supported by the European funds. Yet this is not enough. More such initiatives are needed to activate the market, such as the one announced by the new communications minister, [Costis] Hatzidakis [i.e. the plan to create new generation access networks through optical fibers]. The new minister is familiar with the Community framework and technology in general and I think he will manage to introduce new technologies in Greece. We are almost at the end of the period of the Third Community Support Framework. Are you satisfied with the steps taken to date, particularly regarding the Information Society? Greece has not taken sufficient steps in the Information Society. There are many gaps that leave much to be desired. Yet one can clearly see that some progress has been made, particularly after the liberalization of the market which came in the wake of measures taken by your national regulator [the Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission – EETT]. The steps toward broadband Internet are obvious, especially after the passing of the relevant law. Greece has really taken a leap, doubling the penetration rate within just one year. This is a good way forward, but by itself is not enough. Greece is no longer the last country [in the penetration of broadband connections], but the third from last. It is moving fast and the Commission will do everything it can to help it reach the European average. The Commission aims to complete the switchover to digital television in the EU by 2012. Do you think Greece will be able to achieve this? I am not aware of the government’s new plan to meet this specific target. What I have asked all governments to do is to proceed as rapidly as possible. This is because, as you know, we need to free up some frequencies. Your minister [Hatzidakis] spoke about telemedicine, electronic learning and electronic governance. All this requires frequencies, especially in Greece with its unique geographical features. Therefore the quicker the transition is made to the digital broadcasting signal, the sooner we will have these frequencies available to realize new services and applications. The Greek government has set a deadline in 2015, when the international obligation of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) expires. No, this is not true. The deadline for the switchover is 2012 and in our opinion this is already very late. I personally exert pressure on governments to achieve this sooner as it is in their own interest. I think that most countries will achieve the transition by 2012, with some being ready now. What would you suggest the Greek government do in the war between OTE, the dominant provider, and the national regulatory authority? I believe that the regulator is simply enforcing the law. This should not be challenged. The law should be enforced in a systematic way. The Greek regulatory authority does not move in the sphere of imagination, but implements European legislation, which is also national. OTE argues that EETT is the legislator, the judge and the executive body of its own decisions. I cannot comment on such a ludicrous war of words. What I can say is that there is European legislation on which the Greek framework is based and that the Greek regulatory authority enforces the law. Consultation started on telecoms quality indices The Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission (EETT) yesterday launched a public consultation aimed at formulating quality indices for services offered by telecom providers to consumers. The process concludes on December 7. The consultation aims to record and utilize the views and comments of interested parties on the issuing by EETT of a regulation concerning quality indices. Among the issues to be discussed will be the content and format of relevant information for publication by providers, as well as the method and time of publication. The indices will help consumers obtain comparable data on the quality of the services provided by telecom providers, thus facilitating them in their choice of provider.