Bulgaria Govt Drags Its Feet over ASO Plan
Bulgaria's government has delayed once again the adoption of a plan for the analogue switch-off, which is scheduled to be wrapped up by September 1, 2013.
The document, keenly awaited in Brussels, was to be approved at the cabinet's meeting on Thursday, but Prime Minister Boyko Borisov put a spanner in the works, citing funding concerns.
On Monday, the defense, finance and social policy ministries, are about to convene and work out a financial model to be applied to the analogue switch-off.
The news boosts speculations that Bulgaria's government is just playing for time, protracts the switch-over and has no intention to declare void the controversial tenders for the operation of what will be the country's DTT multiplexes despite pressure from Brussels.
The EU executive body told Bulgaria on March 22 that it will face the EU highest court unless it informs it of the measures taken to address the breach of EU law within two months.
The government in Sofia believes that the European Commission will not insist on declaring the tenders void and there will be no requirement for their annulment.
"The European Commission is well aware that this could prompt the winners to sue Bulgaria for damages, which is hardly a better scenario than being fined by Brussels," the ministry said in a reply to an inquiry by Kapital daily.
Bulgaria has awarded the licenses for its multiplexes to only two companies - Latvia's Hannu Pro (four) and Slovakia's Towercom (two).
The Commission considers that Bulgaria did not comply with the requirements of the Competition Directive when it assigned in 2009 the five spectrum lots available for digital terrestrial broadcasting via two contest procedures, limiting without justification the number of undertakings that could enter the market concerned.
According to Brussels the selection criteria of the contest procedures were disproportionate and therefore not in line with the requirements of the Competition, Authorisation and Framework Directives.
Applicants were not allowed to have links with content providers (TV channels operators), including operators active only outside Bulgaria, or with broadcasting network operators, the EU executive body said.
The Commission has threatened to refer the matter to the Court of Justice.
Bulgaria decided at the end of December to hold a tender for yet another multiplex, its seventh, a surprising last-minute decision, which local experts slammed as a mere eye- wash for Brussels.
This is also envisaged in the draft plan for the analogue switch-over, which was to be voted by the government.
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.
Delays in the analogue switch-off put Bulgaria at a disadvantage in comparison with neighbor countries, which are about the wrap up the transition period, including Romania and Serbia.
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