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EDITORIAL

Paying a high price for vested interests

ONCE again President Rudolf Schuster has managed to find a niggling point to avoid signing the telecom law.
This year he apparently did not like that the costs of wiretapping would be borne by the state rather than telecom firms themselves. This is an issue unlikely to really bother the vast majority of the Slovak population.
Last year he vetoed the law on the grounds that the level of fines available to the telecoms regulator was too high.

ONCE again President Rudolf Schuster has managed to find a niggling point to avoid signing the telecom law.

This year he apparently did not like that the costs of wiretapping would be borne by the state rather than telecom firms themselves. This is an issue unlikely to really bother the vast majority of the Slovak population.

Last year he vetoed the law on the grounds that the level of fines available to the telecoms regulator was too high.

Both times the law failed to be supported by the required absolute majority to pass into law without the president's signature. This time, as last, the coalition failed to support the returned law.

This is very convenient for a cabinet that is lukewarm at best towards introducing measures that would reduce the profitability of the ST pseudo-monopoly. It is not surprising, therefore, that rumours abound of a secret clause in the agreement with Deutsche Telekom, which purchased 51 percent of Slovak Telecom (ST) in 2000, to avoid stronger legislation.

The failed bill was to open up the domestic market to competition at the local loop level, and provide more authority for the Telecoms Office to ensure that the dominant operator, ST, was transparent in its dealings with other potential providers.

Meanwhile alternative telecoms operators are waiting in the wings, desperate to finally get a foothold in the potentially lucrative Slovak market. Of the 13 fixed-line operators, not one has managed to reach agreement with ST for access to its network. Without that access they cannot operate, and without their operation ST can continue in its current pricing policy that, among other things, makes Slovakia one of the most expensive countries in Europe for internet access and has led to a marked drop in the number of domestic fixed lines.

Until ST is forced to release its stranglehold on the domestic telecoms market, customers will have to choke on prices that far outweigh the service provided.

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