Telekom Serbia confirmed for the first time on Thursday that it was working with the Telenor mobile services provider in what it called “regular contractual cooperation which is fully in line with European standards and practices”.
A statement issued four days after N1 TV first reported that the state-owned Telekom had a contract with Telenor said that it was renting out its optical infrastructure to Telenor under commercial conditions to significantly liberalize the telecommunications market in Serbia. Telenor can also buy content from Telekom as well as from other producers and distributors and can produce its own content, it said. The statement gives the impression that this is a classic contract between two operators.
So what is the statement not revealing?
It does not show the intent of the agreement. The documents that N1 has had access to reveal everything that the state-owned Telekom wants to hide. The company‘s CEO Vladimir Lucic clearly explained in the documents to the executive and oversight boards that the goal is to destroy United Media TV channels and that working with Telenor is just a means to that end. Also, the conditions offered Telenor were not given on the market, the contract was signed secretly with prices that were never made public. The documents we have access to show that we are right.
The contract that Telekom signed with Telenor was made to break the SBB cable services provider and that would jeopardize United Group media. CEO Lucic presented the plan for the deal and later explained in writing the main goal of the deal with Telenor. That is all shown in the documents.
“This means that SBB can be pushed out of this market, that Telekom Serbia can be stable in first place in landline Internet retail sales and achieve significant wholesale income in the future. As for content, that is our TV channels, the use of our infrastructure means the use of our content and that will allow our content to dominate over United Media channels. That means that the contract for those services terminates the business operations of United Media and SBB in Serbia,” one of the documents says.
That strategy, the crucial goal for the contract with Telenor, was drawn up and explained to the Telekom Management Board by then Internet and Multi-Media Coordinator turned CEO Vladimir Lucic.
The Management Board, made up mostly of members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), were not opposed and Telekom and Telenor signed three contracts which were sent ot the Competition Commission for approval:
– A contract on the right to use optic fibres;
– a contract on Ethernet Bitstream services;
– a contract on the maintenance of optic fibres.
Experts said that the contract between those two companies is a classic example of violations of the rule of free competition. “The problem isn’t that they have a 40 percent market share, the problem is abuse and we already have a number of those cases which we discussed in the past. The circumstances in which thise was launched and the reasons how it was launched indicate abuse. The Commission should not say that it does nto have jurisdiction and should not approve this kind of contract,” economist Goran Radosavljevic said.
Journalists believe that the essence of the Telekom-Telenor agreement is control of the media market and the termination of independent media. Journalist Nedim Sejdinovic said that state is behind this: “There is no doubt that it will do everything, especially in a non-regulated situation, to destroy or marginalize SBB as the distributor of important media outlets which are a rare alternative to the majority media sector. The problem is multi-layered and shows that the state is using public money to seriously upset market competition. On the other hand, there is mention of the independent regulatory bodies which should react in cases like this being numbed”.
Former Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) President, now Vreme weekly journalist Vukasin Obradovic said that the “intention to expel from the market or reduce the influence of the United Group and SBB and prevent as many people as possible from watching N1 and Nova S TV” is in the background of the Telekom-Telenor agreement.
Economic journalist Mijat Lakicevic said that this Telekom operation has nothing to do with business. “This is a strike against the constitution and basic rights and liberties. We had a war for the truth during the fight against the corona, this is a war for the truth because the goal is to prevent the public from getting the information they need,” he said.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said several times in public that he knows how Telekom operates and he advocated the state-owned companies business policies in public. Since he is informed about big state projects, he has to have known about the Telenor deal. On the other hand, the owner of Telenor Serbia, Czech billionaire Petr Kellner is reported to be well acquainted with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. N1 has learned that the links between Orban and Vucic was stressed at the 388th meeting of the Telekom Serbia Executive Board as the umbrella agreement which led to the Telekom-Telenor deal.
SBB is part of the United Group which includes N1 TV.