AS SOON AS you buy a television in Slovakia and bring it home you can plug it in and start watching a significant number of programmes, if you are lucky enough to live in an area covered by various TV signals.
The TV networks (televízne siete) you can watch in Slovakia with only an aerial are the three basic terrestrial Slovak ones: STV 1 and STV 2 (public broadcast - verejnoprávne vysielanie) and Markíza (private television - súkromná televízia). Despite the fact that these networks say they are available all around the country, there are still places where you are not able to receive their signals.
What do you do when you live in one of these areas where the signal does not reach you?
You might want to consider getting cable television service. There are around 100 companies and local affiliates providing cable television service in Slovakia. While some offer a wide range of international television programmes and channels combined into all kinds of different packages, some provide only exclusive services.
The company with the largest coverage in the country, offering the widest range of services, is United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC). As the dominant cable provider, it has been in trouble with Slovakia's Telecoms Office for what the regulator says are illegal price rises dating from February 2001.
UPC owns and operates a cable network (káblová sieť) that provides service in 29 towns across Slovakia via its subsidiaries UPC Slovensko, Trnavatel and Kabel Plus Východné Slovensko. UPC Slovensko operates mainly in the cities of Bratislava, Dunajská Streda, Levice, Trenčín, Zvolen and Žilina. Trnavatel, as its name suggests, operates in Trnava, and Kabel Plus Východné Slovensko covers Košice, Bardejov, Poprad and other eastern towns.
In addition to being a cable operator, UPC also offers satellite television service with its UPC Direct packages for households without access to the cable network. This service offers 76 channels, mostly in English and German. Foreign networks, such as CNN, Fox Kids, Cartoon Network and MTV are available, in addition to Slovak and Czech ones like TA3 (a Slovak news channel) and Nova (a Czech station). Some foreign channels, like Hallmark, Extreme Sports and Eurosport, have much of their programming dubbed into Slovak or Czech. UPC Direct also offers premium stations such as HBO and Private Gold.
The households that have access to the cable networks have a much wider choice of packages than those offered by UPC Direct. The first thing you have to do before you even think of signing up for cable television is to check if there has been a cable connected in your flat in the past. If this is the case then it will cost less than if you have to have a new cable installed.
The least expensive cable package available is called the basic set (základný súbor). It offers domestic and foreign TV networks and stations. Once you have the basic set you can always upgrade to an expanded set (rozšírený súbor).
The basic set includes public broadcast television (STV 1 and STV 2) and usually consists of around eight different networks or stations. The number differs in each city. For instance, in Bratislava, STV 1, STV 2, Markíza, JOJ (local Slovak channel), two Hungarian channels and two Austrian channels are available to subscribers.
The expanded set is a standard program package of 25 to 32 of the most popular networks and stations (the number again differs in each city) including foreign networks like CNN, BBC and the Cartoon Network as well as some that are dubbed into Slovak or Czech like Hallmark and Spektrum.
If you have the expanded set but still want more, there are also above-standard options (nadštandardné), which include HBO (movie channel broadcasting in Czech language), Private Gold (hard-core pornography) and UPC Komfort. This last option contains Discovery Channel (documentaries), Private Blue (pornography), Extreme Sports (adrenalin sports), Romantica (soap operas), Reality TV (natural catastrophes) and Avante (technological development).
Once you decide what service you want to buy, as a foreigner you need your identification card or passport, rental contract (nájomná zmluva) and your proof of residence to sign the contract. The service then can be paid on a yearly, half-yearly, quarterly or monthly basis.
UPC's monthly charges effective January 1, 2003
Foreign Affairs is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
If you have an idea for this column, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.