Brussels to Force Bulgaria Nix DTT Mux Deals - Report
The European Commission is expected to issue on Thursday a final warning to Bulgaria over the controversial tenders for the operation of what will be the country's DTT multiplexes, according to local media reports.
"The EU executive body will warn Bulgaria for the last time that it will face the EU highest court unless the tenders are declared void," local Trud daily reported, citing well informed insiders in Brussels.
Bulgaria has awarded the licenses for its six multiplexes to only two companies - Latvia's Hannu Pro (four) and Slovakia's Towercom (two).
The European Commission launched in May 2011 an infringement procedure following conflicting requirements for the eligible bidders in the mux contests, which drove away Austria's Oesterreichischer Rundfunksender GmbH & Co KG (ORS).
The requirements in fact made possible a near monopoly on the mux market as all companies which were granted licences are linked in one way or another to Tsvetan Vassilev, majority owner of Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank.
At first it was not clear who stands behind the foreign investors Towercom and Hannu Pro, but soon the names of Tsvetan Vassilev, head of Bulgaria's Corporate Commercial Bank and Irena Krasteva, a media mogul, believed to be funded by the bank and ethnic Turkish leader Ahmed Dogan, popped up in all deals.
Should the case go to the Luxembourg court and the judges rule against Bulgaria, the country will be forced to pay hefty fines, worth up to EUR 200.000 per day.
In a bid to prevent legal action by the European Commission, Bulgaria decided at the end of December to hold a tender for yet another multiplex, its seventh.
The government has boasted that the new amendments will allow companies such as Austria's ORS, which have TV channels outside Bulgaria, to participate in the new DTT contest.
Experts however say that the new procedure is a mere attempt to throw dust in the eyes of Brussels officials.
The seventh multiplex will be just a collection of frequencies and its holder - in a much more disadvantaged position than Hannu Pro and Towercom, which have already grabbed the lion's share of the market, according to them.
Bulgaria's communications watchdog is obliged to prepare the package of documents for the new tender on September 1, 2013 under legal amendments that parliament hurriedly adopted in the last days of 2011.
This is also the deadline for the analogue switch-off in the country.
Until then the government is expected to splurge BGN 150 M on freeing frequencies currently held by the military.
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