24 june 2011

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

The two officials discussed providing telephone services in rural areas, modernising national communications systems and technology, and cooperation with foreign – especially European – partners in regulating mobile roaming tariffs. Vladimir Putin emphasised that constant attention should be given to this issue, so that “Russians will not find themselves at a disadvantage compared with residents of other countries using modern communications services.”

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shchegolev, we have been discussing an issue which is highly important for many Russians who live in rural areas. I am referring to connecting rural households to telephone networks. Many of them are far from big cities and telephone communication is of particular importance for them. Many people would also like to use other modern telecommunications services, such as the internet. What are you planning to do to improve this situation in the immediate future?

Igor Shchegolev: We have implemented a fairly large programme to introduce universal communications services. As a result, we have installed 150,000 public phones in rural areas, with the possibility to make free calls from post offices. They are bright and easily noticeable. Incidentally, many calls were made last summer to report the wildfires and summon fire services. This system has proved useful, but of course, it is already obsolete because it only allows for making phone calls. Other modern means of communications are out of the question.

Vladimir Putin: What about portable communication systems?

Igor Shchegolev: Mobile communications is certainly a modern service. We often receive requests from residents of rural areas and remote villages who feel disadvantaged because they have no mobile services. Operators on the market find mobile services in these regions unprofitable, so they are not rushing to expand into these areas.

Therefore, on the one hand, after we finish reforming Rostelecom this year, we will have a single consolidated company. There will be no more double spending, and the company will be able to meet major national goals. Rostelecom is now working on one of these projects. They will complete it soon, so we will be able to show you how it will work and what high-quality services we will provide. We will deliver internet, digital TV, electronic government services and high-quality telephone service. This is a single solution.

Vladimir Putin: How soon and how broadly will you be able to arrange these services?

Igor Shchegolev: We estimate that the programme will take three years and encompass around 4.5 million households – it is a large-scale programme, and will cost around 8 billion roubles. The company will invest its own funds because of the demands of the modern day: it needs new clients, and people are waiting and ready for modernisation.

On the other hand, although we're talking about wireless technology, it is not quite the same as conventional mobile service. With regard to specifically mobile services, we are drafting solutions to modify the universal service we are developing so as to provide mobile services to most towns and villages as early as 2015. We will be able to report to you very soon on the mechanisms we are planning to use.

Vladimir Putin: Good. You mentioned roaming and cooperation with foreign partners. I know that the situation has been changing. How would you assess it today?

Igor Shchegolev: We believe that most of our partners are interested in this cooperation. The EU communications ministers will meet in autumn this year. Poland will take over the EU presidency in the second half of this year. Our Polish colleagues have responded with enthusiasm to our proposals.

Russian and foreign mobile operators are in direct talks now. We will also discuss our proposals with all our EU colleagues in Poland in October. The model we will discuss involves joining with the principles of European roaming regulation. This will make roaming services much more inexpensive for Russians travelling to European countries.

Our European partners are also interested in this because they can later extend this model to third countries, as their residents also travel frequently and roaming services are not always regulated clearly. This leads to extra costs. This is one side of the matter.

On the other hand, we have vast potential as a transit country. This potential is mostly used to deliver large amounts of data from the West to the East. To facilitate this data transfer, we are expanding our main networks, using Russian-made equipment, in order to learn to earn money on this transfer.

Now we are moving south, towards India. We have recently signed an agreement on the establishment of a trilateral consortium which allows us to provide these services. Countries on the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East are also interested in this because it will be a short route bypassing the Suez Canal. They all agree Russia has vast potential as a transit country.

Vladimir Putin: Be sure to continue this effort. It needs to be carried through and given a lot of attention, so that Russians will not find themselves at a disadvantage compared with residents of other countries using modern communications services.