Croatia’s former monopoly Hrvatski Telekom (HT) has pulled the plug on a major music event at the last minute, after coming under pressure from its employees who were dismayed that it would rather sponsor pop music than save their jobs. HT withdrew its sponsorship of next month’s Zagreb concert by pint-sized pop princess Kylie Minogue just days after hundreds of its staff took to the streets to protest the firm’s recently announced job cuts. As many as 1,000 HT workers marched through the streets of the Croatian capital last week to show their dissatisfaction at the loss of 700 staff, equivalent to around 10% of its workforce. The high profile sponsorship of Miss Minogue’s concert only served to further enrage the protesters and HT executives decided to pull out of the event, which was to be used to celebrate the company’s rebranding, in a bid to limit the criticism.
HT’s job cuts come as the Croatian Telecommunications Council prepares to ramp up competition in the country’s mobile market with the award of six new licences next month. HT retains a near-stranglehold on the fixed line market despite losing its monopoly at the start of 2003, whilst its wholly-owned subsidiary HT Mobile is currently one of just two cellcos in the country. But the regulator is set to award three new GSM and UMTS concessions on 17 October, and HT urgently needs to cut costs and shore up its operations in preparation. HT Mobile has been aggressively marketing its services ahead of the new arrivals and has edged its market share up three percentage points to 53% in the first half of 2004. Both the incumbent and its current lone mobile competitor VIPnet have reportedly entered bids for the new spectrum – motivated not only by the desire to improve the coverage and quality of their services, but also to limit the number of new players entering the sector. The bidding deadline for the new frequencies has been delayed by two weeks until 27 September.