Friday, October 29, 2004

I'm in the phone booth, thinkin' 'bout the government

That bad misquote of an ancient Bob Dylan song (the line, I believe, orginally was "Johnny's in the basement, mixin' up some medicine, I'm on the pavement, thinkin' bout the government") brings me to record some preliminary thoughts about the fall of the minority coalition under Indulis Emsis and its possible impact on the telecoms sector.
It isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind, but here are a few speculations.

1) The realignment of political forces, especially if New Era (Jaunais laiks) returns to government, could break the deadlock on the privatization of Lattelekom, which would mean that TeliaSonera would get a better chance to increase its stake in the company significantly above the present 49 %. Emsis has been opposed to privatization and has said it would not happen as long as he was in government. Indeed, he has suggested what would amount to an operational renationalization of both Lattelekom and its sister company, Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) by "taking charge" in the government's interest in both companies.

2) The government crisis will postpone the auction of a third GSM/UMTS licence, which Emsis insisted had to be held even before Ticon Latvia had made its feasibilty report. Now, after closer study, that report appears to have been done rather superficially, finding not so much genuinely interested operators as companies who talked to the interviewers out of politeness and made essentially polite statements of "we might be interested" rather than analyzing the market in depth and discussing options based on that.
In fact, this blogger has learned that Ticon even got the name of one company, listed as J Tong Telecom Inc, wrong. The company is actually called J-Tone and is part of larger Taiwanese telecoms group. According to my sources, J-Tone (which means quick call or something like that in Chinese), was and remains essentially clueless about the Latvian telecoms market, but more or less said something like "why not"?

3) The fall of the Emsis government may also derail plans to start a second government owned telecoms wholesaler (or whatever it is supposed to be) called The Alliance (see earlier posts). It seems that Ainars Slesers, the Deputy PM and Minister of Transport rolled into one, favored this plan, as did the Ministry's Communications Department. Indeed, the idea came up in a sectoral policy concept published earlier this year, before the Repse government fell (this stuff happens often here, we're no worse than the Italians), so it may be picked up again even if whatever right-of-center government that reconstitutes (like the "policeman" in Terminator II) keeps Slesers out in the cold.

4) If New Era gets a strong position in a new government, it may heat up the pursuit of "the guilty" in the digital TV scandal, which had essentially faded from sight during the Emsis interlude. So far, they got found one culprit, a Mr. Bean look-alike financial planner associated with Andris Skele, founder of the People's Party, the folks who just sank the Emsis government. Unlikely that they will resume the hunt for the elusive digital fraudsters, as there is one theory that links the little-known Kempmayer Media Ltd, blamed for the digital TV scandal (although it delivered on all of its contracts) to Skele through some byzantine network of offshore companies. Meanwhile, digital TV, mostly by cable and MMDS, is moving ahead under private sector steam.

This, indeed, may be the best thing about a governmental interlude yet once again, one more time, whatever...
I don't mean that some digital schemers should go unpunished, but that while the scattered hogs are finding their way back to the trough, it is unlikely they will interfere in any way with private activities to develop telecoms and other, converged digital services that the market demands.

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