Unfortunately, it looks as if the debate about the privatization of state telecommunications operator OTE will go the way of the review of Article 16 of the Constitution, which foresees the creation of private universities. The public debate about OTE has become trapped in all-too-familiar…
Unfortunately, it looks as if the debate about the privatization of state telecommunications operator OTE will go the way of the review of Article 16 of the Constitution, which foresees the creation of private universities.
The public debate about OTE has become trapped in all-too-familiar dilemmas – about whether the public utility should come under state or private management – and upheaval on the political stage, such as the conflict between Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias. All these developments reveal just how challenging it is to bring about a major change.
The dispute over OTE’s management has not allowed us to discuss a serious issue which has been troubling many of our fellow European Union member states. Telecoms operators like OTE are actually two things: They are the physical network of cables and wireless connections they comprise and they are services.
OTE has had a pretty dismal track record when it comes to services, and now competition is starting to heat up.
But the outlook is encouraging for the telecoms services sector as a whole despite the fact that, as in any market, some alternative providers will be unreliable.
The real question, however, is who will control the network. Irrespective of who ends up managing OTE, there must be a guarantee that there will be no exclusion of any citizens from the network, regardless of their location and financial means. So we need what experts call “universal provision of telecoms services.”
This might sound simple to achieve but actually it is not. Not even the utility OTE offers universal coverage when it comes to broadband connection. The US has found a simple – but difficult to implement – solution to this problem: a common fund for universal services. Every provider is obliged to pay a contribution, according to its turnover, in order to create the necessary infrastructure in less profitable areas.
But the problem is that the technological landscape is constantly changing. A company’s turnover is not only dependent on its target market but also the innovations that the company puts into practice. In one sense, the US common fund punishes innovation: Those who profit from their innovations pay a larger contribution. But a company’s turnover is also dependent on the range of services it offers, which is difficult to determine in a continuously changing landscape.
Ten years ago, there was universal provision in basic telephone connection. Now the aim is for all schools to have Internet connection. Tomorrow, high-speed broadband connection might not be considered adequate. But where does society’s duty to provide these services end? It is time a substantial debate on this issue got under way in this country.
KATHIMERINI English Edition, 20/12/2006