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Byte, September 1998

Interview - National Host of Hungary

In the EU Member States, the National Hosts provide for the infrastructure collectively.
Hungary has much to do to make up the deficiency...

By Miklós Varga

Infokom hosts

Many Hungarian institutions, who are member organisations of the recently established National Host of Hungary, joined their forces to participate in various EU programs and thereby accelerate the development of the Hungarian infocommunications infrastructure that meets future demands. Zsolt Balassy, the Executive Officer of the Hungarian Host and also the IT Director of the International Institute of Technology, Chairman of the Telecommunication Conciliatory Forum (TÉF) and member of the International Communications and IT Council (NHIT) gathers his experience from wide sources and makes good use of them in the new organisation.

- BYTE: Not everybody even in the area of infocommunications and innovation is familiar with the concept of the Host.

- Zsolt Balassy: The so-called Host concept was developed by the European Community in the 4th Research, Technology Development and Demonstration Framework Program to address the shortage in affordable devices and applications for high-speed, broadband data links required for research. The Hosts co-ordinated the development of experimental research networks because of the standard and prices of commercial services. The international organisation of National Hosts evaluated the completed work, set the objectives and identified the demands each year. In four years, their efforts resulted in the development of a high-speed, heavily loadable infrastructure accessible to everyone within and between the EU Member States. The available capacities are now utilised for commercial purposes.

- BYTE: One and a half years ago it seemed that a Host would be formed in Hungary, too. What has happened since then?

- Zsolt Balassy: The OMFB (National Board for Technical Development) wanted to exceed the data transmission infrastructure limits of domestic research and development. They made a proposal in 1997 for the establishment of the national Host in Hungary but the organisations concerned were not receptive to the idea. It required one year of organisation efforts and the involvement of new players to bring together the member organisations for the operation of the Host. Our activities are supported by KHVM (Ministry of Transport, Communication and Water Management) and HÍF (Chief Communications Inspectorate) as well. Instead of a consortium or some form of business organisation - both are established forms for the Hosts of the European Union -, we decided to form a society which better suits our purposes and Hungarian law. The National Host of Hungary Society has been operating since April this year with minimum administration, elected management, active institutional representatives and regular general meetings.

- BYTE: It means that we can also raise EU support for building high-speed broadband networks...

- Zsolt Balassy: ...Unfortunately, we have missed the opportunity. While we were trying to arouse the interest of the potential participant(s), the Member States of the European Union created the basis for high-speed data transmission capabilities, starting with almost nothing. The resulting infrastructure satisfies not only the needs of the researchers' society but it can be used for commercial purposes as well. The 5th framework program already addresses the utilisation of this network.

- BYTE: How much have we lost with the delay?

- Zsolt Balassy: the opportunity of obtaining billions of forints of support and plenty of time. We have to make every effort to make up for lost time and seize the new opportunities offered by the framework program.

- BYTE: What research projects will you focus on?

- Zsolt Balassy: We can work together with the institutions of the Union to accelerate the process as a result of which an opportunity is created for the transmission of much more data, while the services of the state, the municipalities and the public utilities engaged in information services are made available to the public. Instead of research or basic research, as we use these terms, we want to focus on the development, market introduction and public acceptance of the equipment and technology.

- BYTE: Do we have a chance to make up the lag?

- Zsolt Balassy: There are already many players on the Hungarian telecommunications market that we can rely on for the development and popularisation of high-speed data transmission in Hungary. A wide range of technologies is available to us to attain our infocommunications goals. The Host is committed to improving the conditions for the competition of technologies and services and creating a more advantageous environment for their widespread use.

- BYTE: What is needed for competition? A better playing field, more incentive competition rules?

- Zsolt Balassy: We are trying to contribute to both. As far as the playing field is concerned, we are in the search of competition-neutral sites now that can be made suitable for the demonstration of different technologies. The member organisations of the Host and other manufacturers are expected to be able to display their "ready-to-market" products still this year. Thus, we can stimulate competition, enable future users to compare market supply and give tips to the representatives of professions not directly related to infocommunications about the potentials of new applications. They can also be involved in the groups participating in EU programs because the EU has many projects to support the process of new market introductions and the funds that can be raised through these projects will certainly cover the use of broadband networks and further development. Thus, the different forces have a synergistic effect.

- BYTE: And what about the "competition rules"? Where is the Host positioned at the moment among the regulatory authorities and the civil organisations who play a part in regulation?

- Zsolt Balassy: The Host represents the interests of manufacturers and service providers concerned with high-speed data transmission within a framework available for civil organisations. Its tasks are similar to those of the Telecommunication Conciliatory Forum but cover a narrower segment of the profession. It reconciles the interests of its members within the limits of the possibilities and informs the decision-makers of the positions developed by consensus and tries to enforce them. Irrespective of the appearance of the Host, however, it would be worthwhile to reconsider the roles, tasks, authorities and relationships of the authorities and professional representative organs. According to my experience, liberalisation and convergence will accelerate the transformation of the Hungarian telecommunications market and will bring about a change in the role of the institutions. The preparation of the uniform communications act creates an excellent opportunity to create conditions for more flexible, dynamic and effective operation.

- BYTE: What does that mean for the representative organs?

- Zsolt Balassy: The 1992 telecommunications act specified the representative organs of the area. For a new, more forward-looking regulation, however, we must prepare for a more rapid, continuing change in the composition and interests of the market players of the different industries. The regulatory authorities are also interested in changing the structure and authorities of the representative organs because the decisions of the inadequately staffed administrative apparatus can be much better prepared by the well functioning civil organisations. I think the new communications act should promote the spontaneous organisation of representative organs, then it would be appropriate to evaluate their representative activities, permanency of operation and the coverage of the market segment they represent. This could serve as a basis for accrediting and admitting new organisations among the recognised and supported professional representative organs whose positions would then be taken into account on a mandatory basis.
This does not necessarily result in impartial support because the number of the organisations and the results and expenses of their operation can be related to accreditation. Unfortunately, the telecommunications act has not regulated this issue in sufficient detail. The annual support to TÉF, for example, was reduced by one quarter in nominal value this year. Such a radical "diet" may cause functional disorders in the operation of an organisation.

- BYTE: Hasn't it been necessary to take into account the positions of the representative organs so far?

- Zsolt Balassy: Unfortunately not. The regulatory authorities essentially work together with the organisations named in the act but these organisations are granted only the right to make proposals and the ministries are not bound to take them into account. If the ministry agrees to the proposals and they fit into its plans, then it would enforce them in some form but if they do not fit into its plans, it can go by without further ado.

- BYTE: Will it be sufficient to improve only this level of the regulatory environment?

- Zsolt Balassy: I think it would be useful to reconsider the functions and contacts of all organisations affecting infocommunications and to clarify these issues in professional, social debates. Even the institutions at top levels should not be left out of consideration because many overlaps have been created over the recent years between the functions of ORTT (National Radio and Television Board) and HÍF as well as between NHIT and a secretariat of the Office of the Prime Minister. By an overview of the tasks, authorities and co-operation it would be appropriate not to wait until expiry of the mandates of NHIT and ORTT members but it would be appropriate to develop a carefully planned hierarchy before finding new persons to the future vacant posts. And the spontaneous formation of civil representative organs should be promoted to the maximum extent at the intermediate levels between the regulators and those regulated.

Copyright © MNH 1999
Last updated: 09-02-2001

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