Romania’s transition to digital broadcasting is in serious danger of being derailed at its most critical stage.
Although the country was never in a hurry to launch a DTT operation, the progress it has made in recent months has been commendable. Prior to last week, it was at the stage in which seven parties, among them the local ‘big boys’ RCS/RDS and Romtelecom and foreign companies TDF, ORS and General Satellite, had indicated their interest in participating in an upcoming tender for two multiplexes by buying the necessary documentation. The timetable was fixed, with the licence awards due to be made in October and ASO to take place at the beginning of 2012.
However, the government then decided, out of the blue, to put ASO back by three years. In doing so, it effectively knocked the upcoming DTT tender on the head and arguably also put Romania on a collision course with the EU, which has set a target date of 2012 for member states.
While its reasons it gave for doing so seem sensible enough, there is much more to the decision than at first meets the eye. And crucially, not everything is lost and the upcoming tender could still go ahead.
A well-placed local industry source has told Broadband TV News that the government’s decision has not yet received the approval the Ministry of Finance, which fears it will lose millions of euros if the tender is scrapped.
There is also a potential scandal brewing over the state-owned national transmission company Radiocom, otherwise known as SNR. Last month it apparently came close to being awarded a licence by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCSI) for what will be the third multiplex without even participating in a tender, only for the National Audiovisual Council (CNA) to kick the move into touch.
It has since also been reported that Radiocom is in on the verge of bankruptcy and may not even be entitled to participate in the tender for the first two multiplexes, where it is one of the seven interested parties. Furthermore, the MCSI has controversially decided to grant the company nearly €24 million for frequencies that were freed up two years ago, obtaining the money from taxes paid by the regulator ANCOM and raised from private telcos.
Further interesting and in some cases surprising developments related to its transition to digital broadcasting can be expected in Romania in the days and weeks that lie ahead.