Promotion of the National Operational Broadband Plan

Skopje, January 17th, 2019

Today, the Ministry of Information Society and Administration organized a public discussion that included presentation of the working draft of the National Operational Broadband Plan (NOBP).

The Minister of Information Society and Administration, Damjan Manchevski, focused on the contents of the document, and also discussed commitments of the Government to implement anticipated measures and activities.

"NOBP is a strategic state document. Attainment of national broadband goal would provide opportunities for digital transformation of society. A vital change in our lives, thinking, communications and manners of conducting business. NOBP measures and activities must not be isolated and seen as goals in and of themselves. They must be interconnected and aligned with other strategic state policies in order to attain the ultimate goal, which is to provide a better life to citizens", noted Minister Manchevski.

Discussing benefits all citizens would have from attainment of all goal anticipated under NOBP, Minister Manchevski focused on price regulation and importance of securing a competitive and loyal market.

"One of the largest challenges would be to provide ultra-fast internet access to end users in white zones. White zones are an indicator of the digital gap in the state, and the state should provide solutions for reduction thereof. Therefore, upon requests of end-users, NOBP anticipates that PE MRD would secure optical or wireless connections in white zones, which operators would later use to provide ultra-fast internet access to end-users. It is essential that the construction, the utilization of this optical access structure is performed in a transparent and non-discriminating manner, in accordance with EU Guidelines on State Aid. No operator should be put in a favorable position in the market. All this must be guaranteed. Therefore, the NOBP text would be submitted to the EU for an opinion", informed Minister Manchevski, stressing that prices for ultra-fast internet access for households in white zones must be reasonable and acceptable for citizens.

As Minister Manchevski said, the goal would not be attained if large sums of public funds are spent to build networks in white zones, if those networks are not used afterwards.

To prevent lack of utilization of networks, NOBP anticipates that an operator could utilize the state optical access infrastructure only if households are provided with a price for ultra-fast internet access (> 100 Mbps) amounting to 2% of the average salary in the respective planning region. With the current amount of average salaries, that would amount to approximately 400 - 500 MKD, depending on region.

In addition, reductions of VAT are anticipated from the current 18% to 5%, with a view to encourage utilization of ultra-fast internet. This measure should be adopted in the following 10 years. For white zone households that have total incomes lower than the average monthly salary, we propose financial aid from the Government in the form of payment of subscription to ultra-fast internet access for the first year.

"Public funds that the state should secure to build the networks in the following ten years, which would amount to several tens of million EUR, might seem excessive on first glance. However, the same or similar dilemmas existed during the beginnings of electrification, which was the basis for the Second Industrial Revolution. Thus, securing of these public funds should be viewed as precondition for digital transformation in the state. That is the only way to bring institutions and services closer to citizens, so that citizens would have equal chance to access quality education and information. This is a strategic document that should also reduce immigration from the state, particularly in rural areas" said Minister Manchevski.

Dimitar Bukovalov from MISA and Cvetanka Kuzmanovska from SEA also spoke on the public discussion, whilst they focused on the content of the document, alignment with EU Acquis standards, and the importance of the document in the EU accession process.

All attendees made positive remarks concerning the inclusiveness of the document preparation process, MISA's openness and will for discussion, as well as involvement of all stakeholders.

Comments and remarks that were given at the public debate and that would be lodged to MISA by late January would be discussed within the working group. Following that process, the National Operational Broadband Plan would be finalized. The aim is for the Plan to be adopted at Government session during the month of February.

Ministry of Information Society and Administration