Byte, September 1998
Interview - National Host of Hungary
In the EU Member States, the National Hosts provide for the infrastructure
Hungary has much to do to make up the deficiency...
By Miklós Varga
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
Copyright © MNH 1999
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