Romania’s cable industry, which began life almost two decades ago and is today one of the largest in Central and Eastern Europe, faces a huge threat to its future.
That was the clear and unambiguous message that emerged from this week’s ACC Convention in Bucharest. While there were understandable concerns voiced about the prospects for the cable industry in the light of the current global economic crisis, the main topic of debate was the controversial NetCity project, involving the construction of a metropolitan fibre-optic network in the capital city.
Bucharest, it has to be said, is already highly cabled, though the wires are overhead rather than underground, with the general infrastructure haphazard and aesthetically not pleasing on the eye. Although it would in theory make sense to replace this infrastructure with a modern fibre-optic network, the whole project – work on which the city authorities say could start before the end of this year – appears to be half-baked, to put it mildly.
It was therefore perhaps no surprise that Radu Petric, the president of the ACC; Jack Mikaloff, the head of UPC Romania; and Alexandru Oprea, the general manager of RCS/RDS, held a joint press conference at the end of the convention in which they strongly, and indeed passionately, criticised NetCity.
Perhaps the most compelling argument they put across in the press conference was that cable networks would ultimately have to stump up the money to move from overground to underground infrastructure. Inevitably, this would be translated into higher fees for subscribers.
Given that Romania currently has some of the lowest cable subscription fees in CEE, and that competition is fiercest at the low end of the non-terrestrial market – which, incidentally, is also served by five DTH platforms – cable operators could suddenly find themselves losing subscribers in droves.
With Romania due to hold a general election at the end of this month, the arguments about NetCity have also taken on an extra dimension, with politicians calling for the enactment of new legislation governing such areas as infrastructure.
The debate on the controversial project looks likely to go on for some time yet.