Branch Association of Bulgarian Telecommunications Operators Calls for Encouraging Competition in Telecommunications

There is a clear trend towards reduced competition in the telecommunications sector in Bulgaria due to acquisitions and vertical integration by mobile operators, announced representatives of BABTO at a press conference in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

The main speakers were Angel Vasilev, Chairman of BABTO’s Board of Directors and founder and CEO of Telekabel, and Neven Dilkov, member of BABTO’s Board of Directors and founder and CEO of Neterra.

“The reason for the constantly rising prices of services from the three mobile operators in Bulgaria is the lack of competition in this sector. The simultaneous price indexation that we observe this year leaves consumers with no real choice. Therefore, we urge the state and regulatory authorities to take measures to encourage competition in mobile services and to create conditions for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to emerge and operate,” commented Angel Vasilev.

The three mobile operators in Bulgaria increase the prices of mobile services every year. In the fixed-services market (internet and television), where more than 1,000 other companies compete, there has been no change in prices despite inflation.

Bulgaria is the only country in Europe and almost the entire world where MVNOs do not exist. “They are not prohibited in our country, but the mobile operators refuse to allow them into their networks. European regulators explicitly acknowledge the importance of MVNOs for the development of competition in the retail market.

Given that telecommunication services are essential for citizens—for their security, health, and information—the state must guarantee their accessibility and fair price. This can be achieved by introducing a requirement in the conditions for the use of the national radio frequency spectrum by mobile operators to allow new enterprises—mobile virtual network operators—into their networks at transparent, equal, and non-discriminatory wholesale prices,” said Neven Dilkov.

“Consolidation in and of itself is not a negative development for the market unless it leads to the creation of monopoly or oligopoly positions for one of the players. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in the Bulgarian market. Recently, the Commission for Protection of Competition approved the transaction for acquiring Bulgaria’s largest independent television provider, Bulsatcom.

This will turn Vivacom into a giant in terms of providing pay television, with a market share of over 60%. The three mobile operators have vertical integration in terms of television content and program creation. The combined rating of their TV programs (Nova Broadcasting Group, BTV Media Group, and Max Sport/Aprimis) exceeds 80% of the total rating of all television programs and streaming services broadcast in Bulgaria.

This concentration of power in the hands of the owners of the three mobile operators will not lead to anything good in terms of either the prices or quality of the telecommunications services they offer to consumers,” explained Angel Vasilev.

BABTO calls on the Bulgarian Commission for Communications Regulation to prepare a detailed sector analysis. Based on this, the Commission for Protection of Competition will be able to review the telecommunications services market and make decisions to encourage competition among telecom companies, including by restricting transactions that create national or local oligopolies.