Bulgarian court gives final all-clear to BTC’s GSM licence

18 Jul 2005

Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court has rejected appeals against a government decision to grant a GSM network operating licence to the Bulgarian Telecommunication Company (BTC). The decision to throw out the complaints of rival operators, including Cosmo Bulgaria and MobilTel, rested on whether it was legal to issue the uncontested licence in contradiction of a 2003 law stating that a cellular licence should be awarded only after a competitive tender. The decision gives BTC the final all-clear for a commercial GSM network launch in September this year, originally scheduled for April. It already has subscribers to a trial network in Sofia, and is aiming for 95% population coverage within one year of launching. The company also owns the analogue network of RTC Mobikom since buying out Cable & Wireless’ stake for EUR20 million in February 2005, and says it is determined to keep Mobikom’s clients, whether they choose to continue using the NMT-450 service or sign up to its new GSM offering.

In a separate development, BTC, owned by Vienna-based Viva Ventures, filed a complaint earlier this month with the Competition Protection Commission (CPC) calling for sanctions against rival GSM operator MobilTel for abusing its dominant market position. BTC alleges that fixed-to-mobile termination rates for BTC subscribers are two to three times higher than for MobilTel’s. The dispute appeared to be prompted by the regulator, the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) issuing MobilTel a fixed line licence. CRC’s legal advisors have recommended that the CPC reject BTC’s complaint on the grounds that ‘there is no vertically integrated market, and BTC does not depend in any way on MobilTel’. Despite these legal battles, BTC and MobilTel reached a GSM interconnection agreement on 28 June.