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TELECOM - SLOVAK TELECOM FACES COMPETITION WHEN IT COMES TO PROVIDING UNIVERSAL TELECOM SERVICES

Room for other players, too

IN a liberalized telecom-munications market, it is important to ensure that every customer has access to basic, affordable services. This is the role of universal telecommunications service providers.

How important are phone booths to universal service?
photo: Jela Priehradníková

IN a liberalized telecom-munications market, it is important to ensure that every customer has access to basic, affordable services. This is the role of universal telecommunications service providers.

Providing universal telecom-munications services is not for every company, but it is particularly interesting to strong market players because it enables them to spread their customer base. Universal telecom-munications providers deliver a broad range of products, from those offering cheap and easy access (public phones and directories, for example) to sophisticated products and services

In Slovakia, Slovak Telecom is the current universal telecom-munications service provider. Starting in 2006, however, the former monopoly might find itself sharing the job.

In 2004, the Act on Electronic Communications replaced the old Telecommunications Act. Apart from liberalizing the voice service market, the new law requires the Telecommunications Office (TÚ) to open up the universal telecom-munications service to competitive providers.

The new legislation follows European Union instructions whereby the TÚ must give any telecommunications network the opportunity to provide universal service. As a result, Slovak Telecom will face competition.

"Two companies, Orange Slovensko and Slovak Telecom, expressed their interest in providing universal service," Roman Vavro, TÚ spokesperson, told The Slovak Spectator.

He added that while Slovak Telecom would like to provide universal services to the full extent, Orange Slovensko would like to fulfil only part of the obligations connected with universal services.

Orange, the largest mobile phone operator in Slovakia, did not offer to operate public phone booths, which would include free emergency numbers or public phone booths with disabled access.

Despite this, Orange believes that TÚ will find its offer competitive. "We are confident that we will be able to provide [universal] services in line with the requirements of the law and we would be able compete with [Slovak Telecom] in this area," said Peter Tóth, spokesman for Orange Slovensko.

Based on past results in similar situations, it is usually the former fixed-line monopoly that becomes the provider of universal services. The European Commission noted that fixed-line operators are often better equipped to provide universal services than mobile operators.

Nevertheless, Orange's chances are still high. Vavro emphasized that the TÚ must ensure that universal services cover all of Slovakia, ensuring basic services to all of its citizens. He added that universal services could be effectively delivered through more than one company.

"[TÚ] can appoint different companies or groups of companies to provide universal services, covering different parts of the country's territory," Vavro said.

Slovak Telecom now provides universal services based on previous legislation. Although universal services outlined in this law are slightly different than those going forward, Slovak Telecom is confident that it can provide universal services to the full extent of the more current law.

Slovak Telecom has the advantage of having provided universal services for a long time. "At the moment, we provide mainly operator services [within universal service], like information services, announcing malfunctions and connecting phone users," said Radoslav Bielka, Slovak Telecom spokesman.

The Telecommunications Office should decide on the new universal telecommunication service provi-der by the end of this year.


Universal services: fair quality for a fair price
Universal telecommunications services guarantee a minimal range of services with a reasonable level of quality at reasonable rates for all citizens. Universal services are composed of:


- phone services, fax and data transmissions (Internet access)
- universal phone directory, including phone numbers of all fixed
and mobile networks
- access to public phone booths
- free and 24-hour access to calls on emergency numbers,
including such access in public booths without using coins
or phone cards (including European emergency number "112")
- directory enquiry services
- public phone services to disabled users

Source: Telecommunications Office

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