Why does the state delay in providing its citizens with equal access to the Internet?
The President signed the law on access to construction, transport and electricity facilities to develop telecommunications networks in February, and it was published in March. And this was a victory. We took a big step to overcome the digital divide in our country.
Ukraine still takes one of the last places in terms of the availability of broadband Internet access (BBA) for the population. The level of its use in Ukraine is much lower than in the neighboring countries. For example, according to the regulator (the National Commission for the State Regulation of Communications and Informatization – NCCIR), the index was only 11.8 connections per 100 people, in Poland – 19, in Belarus – 31, in Germany – 37.
The saddest thing in our situation is that the number of fixed BBA subscribers in Ukraine is growing very slowly. According to the International Telecommunication Union, the number of fixed BBA connections worldwide increased by 11.35% in 2016/2015, while the growth index in Ukraine in the 1st quarter of 2017 increased by only 3.34% compared to the 1st quarter of 2016 (from 4898 ths. subscribers to 5062 ths.). With such a pace, technology gaps will only deepen, and Ukraine will still be among the Third World countries.
And while it is possible to get BBA with no hassles in large cities, most of people living in rural areas are deprived of this basic service. That is, at least one third of the population have no opportunity to connect to the fixed BBA at all.
Of course, everything is far from ideal in urban areas as well. There are problems with asset holders, certain settlements and even with buildings. Fortunately, those days when alternative providers have been “pushed out” from a city while providing one desired provider with preferences are over, but such “selection” still takes place at the level of buildings. As a result – one provider have too high prices for its services along with questionable quality. Why are other players not allowed? The association of co-owners of apartment buildings or the HMO made this decision. There are no arguments. As well as there are no explanations (with calculations) from natural monopolists, why a provider should pay 1,000 hryvnas for the right to place his equipment on one transmission pylons in a city with a million-plus population. Or why there is such a difference in prices for placing equipment on transmission pylons in neighboring regions: 2.5 hryvnas in Kherson region and 5.1 hryvnas in Odesa region.
The adopted law prevents these manipulations, obliges to provide equal access to everyone who wants to. This will increase the competition and improve the quality of services. The law stipulates the maximum prices for the development and issuance of technical specifications for access (0.5 of minimum wage (MW), now 1,600 hryvnas). And monthly fees for access to infrastructure elements (for example, 0.3% of MW per transmission pylon). As you can see, it will be impossible to manipulate when determining the size of the fee for access, namely, 1,000 hryvnas for access to one pylon, and usually it is required to have the access to not less than one hundred pylons, because 1,600 hryvnas is the maximum single fee for the access to the infrastructure regardless of whether there are 10 or 300 pylons.
However, to make this law working, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Regional Development, the NEURC and the NCCIR should develop the Rules of access to infrastructure and Methods of charging fees. The Rules should be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers after their approval, and the Methods – at the level of ministries and agencies.
Given the fact that the law was published in early March, the Rules and Methods had to be approved in the early days of June. But… this, of course, did not happen. Deadlines of approval of these regulatory documents have been extended several times, and, unfortunately, there is a high probability that they will be extended in the future. After all, the officials have the low interest in the earliest adoption of these documents.
With the purpose to accelerate the introduction of the law, the BRDO developed seven of ten required regulatory acts, finalized and agreed them with leading telecommunication associations such as Ukrainian Association of communication providers “Telas”, the Internet Association of Ukraine and the Association “Telecommunication Chamber of Ukraine”, and sent these documents to all interested central executive bodies in May-June. Some documents, such as the Rules for providing access to the infrastructure of construction facilities, the Rules of providing access to the infrastructure of house distribution networks and the Rules of providing access to the infrastructure of electricity facilities are already being prepared to be published on the websites of ministries for their public discussion.
At the same time, the Methods of charging fees (for all types of infrastructures) as well as the Rules of providing access to the transport infrastructure continue to be studied and agreed by subdivisions of different ministries. That is, their adoption is delayed for no clear reasons.
It should be noted that the bureaucratic procedure has such specific features that if we want to remove the barriers for the BBA development in our country next year, the subordinate acts should pass the level of subdivisions of central executive bodies and be published on their websites for public discussions in August. After all, all documents should be approved by the NCCIR, and the Rules – also by the State Special Communications Service. In addition, all regulatory acts should be agreed upon by the State Regulatory Service and the Ministry of Justice, and only then they will be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers (the Rules) and different ministries (the Methods).
We hope that the reason of the current delay in ministries is the holiday season, and that we will soon see the enthusiasm of officials, and all draft documents will be presented for public discussion by mid-August. Otherwise, there is a picture that everyone – from power engineering specialists and transport workers to the HMO director – are interested in preserving the non-transparent system with a wide range of illegal providers, high tariffs and the low-quality Internet for the population.