15 february 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Minister of Communications and Mass Media Igor Shchegolev

The two officials discussed digital TV in border areas as well as international roaming fees.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shchegolev, I would like to talk about an issue we have discussed before. I am referring to introducing digital TV in border areas. In some of the regions, our channels were not broadcast at all. Installing digital TV also affects our international commitments. Can you tell me about any progress made?

Igor Shchegolev: Mr Putin, we both  witnessed the test digital broadcast in Russia’s Far East.

Vladimir Putin: We did, in Vladivostok.

Igor Shchegolev: The programme has been gaining momentum since then. Last year, we started broadcasting in a number of regions along the Chinese border, where no Russian channels had been available. This certainly called for the need to coordinate on the distribution of frequency bands with our partners across the border. I can tell you that we are handling this successfully; our dialogue has been largely effective.

Last year, we set up networks in 12 regions. About 1,000 facilities were built, renovated or upgraded, over 700 of those built from the ground up. They are in the start-up phase now and will begin broadcasting sometime this year. We will also move further west, and by the end of this year, digital broadcasting networks will cover an area with 43 million viewers. This means the programme is progressing at a good pace, but we are still looking for ways to bolster our work, and are already doing so in cooperation with regional authorities.

Apart from building more networks for digital broadcasting, we have arranged analogue broadcasting in areas that had no Russian channels at all.

Vladimir Putin: Close to Ukraine.

Igor Shchegolev: Yes, close to Ukraine, for example in the Bryansk Region. We had your specific instruction to build a TV tower which could cover six districts in that region. I can tell you now that your instruction has been fulfilled, and the tower began broadcasting. Here is the Novozybkov District (showing papers); this is the current analogue coverage and this is the area of future digital coverage. I mean this is a significant improvement because until recently there was no Russian TV in this region at all, and now it is provided by the new TV tower.

Vladimir Putin: It’s four times greater, isn’t it?

Igor Shchegolev: Yes. This is analogue coverage, of course, but digital transmitters will be installed on the same posts when we begin converting the Bryansk Region to digital TV. These modern antenna masts with modern transmitters will help us fulfill your instructions promptly and precisely.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you very much. Now, you have started discussing the mobile roaming issue with the Federal Anti-monopoly Service. How do matters stand now? How would you assess the situation?

Igor Shchegolev: Mobile companies are fulfilling the commitments they have undertaken in Russia and the CIS, and they are doing so in line with the schedule they have approved. However, our greatest challenge is international mobile roaming and our subscribers’ expectations in this respect. Many Russians travel to Europe and bring home huge roaming bills. We  brought up this issue at bilateral talks, and we have not given that up, but we also realize now that we need to discuss that at the EU level. The European Union has standard roaming rates and two special regulations, which are compulsory for all of its member countries.

This approach will certainly be more productive. We expect to ensure political support from our EU partners so that Russia could either accede to that zone or  sign a multilateral agreement with European countries that would enable us to influence those rates.

Vladimir Putin: You could discuss that at the meeting with the European Commission later this month. It’s a convenient occasion.

Igor Shchegolev: Yes. If you agree, we will prepare some materials to discuss with our colleagues there.

Vladimir Putin: I do. We can see that mobile communications are becoming essential for many Russians, and those who live in regions that are not yet covered by this service send requests to the ministry. I know that they also send letters to the government, asking for this service to be organised in their regions as soon as possible. Until recently, we did not include sparsely populated towns and villages in our network development plans. Now we have started an experiment. We have announced tenders in eastern Russia – in 17 regions east of the Urals through the Far East – for operating in GSM frequency bands, the national standard for mobile services. We have also included the social responsibility for the winning bidders to organise mobile services first at towns with populations over 500,000, and then, at the next stage, in those with populations between 200,000 and 500,000. Therefore, most small towns and villages will be covered.

Federal and regional highways will also be covered. If this experiment is successful, we will expand it to other tenders to be held for other frequency bands, so that the service operators submitting their bids realize that they will have a responsibility to install mobile networks also in areas which will not yield large profits. Thus we will ensure an even nationwide coverage.

Vladimir Putin: What about the development of the new Amur Highway?

Igor Shchegolev: As I have told you, people are now busy at work on designing it.  Intensive construction is to begin in spring, once the snow melts.

There is something else I would like to discuss. I know that you head the organising committee for the celebration of the first manned space flight. We have designed a commemorative postal stamp and asked our partners in the Universal Postal Union to propose that design for use in other countries. I would like you to approve it before we send it.

Vladimir Putin: That looks great. I do approve.