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COMPUTERWORLD | Articles | Government Policies
13 Oct

Equal Opportunities for All ICT Players

Interview with Plamen Vatchkov, Chairman of the State Agency for Information Technology and Communications

Mr. Vatchkov, what, in your opinion, are the opportunities for involving foreign investors in the Bulgarian IT sector and what will be the Agency's policy of in that respect?
I would rather not put emphasis on the sector policy especially in its part of the foreign investments in the information technology area. I will only point out that we await the start of some big IT projects this year, including our discussions with Microsoft, Cisco Systems and IBM. As for the Hewlett-Packard project, I can say that, after my conversation with Sasha Bezuhanova, general manager of Hewlett-Packard Bulgaria, the preparation advances normally. We will also work closely with Microsoft. I don't know why nobody asked about the state's position on the correlation between the open-source-based products and the Microsoft solutions. The State Agency will give equal opportunities and we will not give priority to one or another party. It is true that Microsoft is in dominant position but if we say that in the future 50 % of the market will be for Microsoft and 50 % for the open-source-based software it wouldn't be realistic. Many specialists working in the field of open source know that at present they have maximum possibilities for winning 10 % of the market. In my opinion, though, the market cannot be percentage divided. Namely, there are some areas where the use of open source technology will bring some benefits and other areas where it won't.
Which are these areas?
I think that the fundamental battle will be on the municipalities' field. It's about the software systems for automation of the municipal activities. Some specialists say that open source based systems developed are good because there is an opportunity to change them easily and because of their flexibility. Other specialists are apprehensive about that kind of freedom which the chance to make things quite differently will give the community. If, for example, the staff of the organization is small and the system administrator, who created an open source based system, vacates the position, you'll have a problem. My purpose is to give examples in both directions and to show that the State Agency will have equal relations with all the companies on the market. And we won't announce any decrees as in Bavaria (Germany), affirming that all systems will be based on open source technology, as well as decrees, announcing that we will prefer Microsoft. We should not interfere. Our policy will guarantee equality on the market but not respect of percentage correlation. We hope we will create favorable market conditions for all participants, so that they can demonstrate their potential, but we won't impose any restrictions. This is the State Agency position.
Could you tell us more about your plans to improve the conditions for attracting big investors from Western countries?
Not only Western, but Eastern and Bulgarian investors too - we will welcome every company that can invest and help for the sector's development. If you are asking about tax concessions, the topic is quite complicated. I would say that in Bulgaria there is a good legislative basis envisaging preferences for large investors. So, if a big company decides to invest in the IT area, it will also take advantage of this legislative basis and the state will undertake the creation of an infrastructure or fixed investment. I will add that the creation of innovation parks and incubators as another good idea in this respect. Maybe that's the way to lure a big IT company that can build an infrastructure and create good business conditions for the growth of a great number of small companies in the field of information technologies. Furthermore, we will interact actively with the universities where the main human potential is concentrated.
The active collaboration with the Bulgarian universities can be made by analogy with the state policy in Sweden. At the same time we can register free-of-charge companies for the specialists who have innovative ideas. Such partnership with the universities will start in Sofia initially. There are the Technical University, the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics of Sofia University, The College for Posts and Communications. Further on, such partnerships could be created in the city of Varna, the city of Karlovo and other Bulgarian cities. Although the project for a High Technology Parks Act wasn't accepted, the existing legislation doesn't require such initiatives. And if the legislation becomes an obstacle, we will change it.
You will have conversations with the Executive Director of the Bulgarian Investment Agency Pavel Ezekiev. Can you unveil what they will be about?
The topics are no secret. I and Mr. Ezekiev have several topics to discuss about a number of projects - for instance, the opening of the SAP Lab in Bulgaria. This is a project that I would like to multiply. Mr. Ezekiev has three or four ideas in that area which we will discuss.
What will be the State Agency role in preparation of the Electronic Communications Act? Do you have any fears, like other representatives of the branch, that the bill could not be adopted in time?
I think that there are some parts of this project, which must be rewritten. However, there isn't any possibility for the bill to be late. We will do our best and we will make consultations with the representatives of the other state institutions. We must also elaborate the sub-normative acts by the end of 2006. If we keep up with the schedule, I think that the bill will be ready for public negotiations by the end of March.

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