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12 Postal and telecommunications services
12.1 Special community service obligations
Under the terms of their concessions, Posten Norge BA and Telenor AS are obliged to provide special community services, including the provision of postal and telecommunications services to Svalbard.
Posten Norge currently carries mail between Longyearbyen and Tromsø and internally on Svalbard, and runs post offices and letter offices on the archipelago. Telenor meets telecom and data communication needs including maritime services on, to and from Svalbard, in addition to operating, maintaining and developing equipment for broadcasting the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation's radio and television programmes. The company is also enjoined to place personnel at the disposal of the Aerodrome Flight Information Service under the auspices of the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management.
The changes in the organizational form of these enterprises in recent years have not affected the services provided on Svalbard. The reorganization has, however, prompted questions which had not attracted the same degree of attention when the Norwegian Telecommunications Administration (the national telecommunication operator, a public utility) and the Postal Services Administration (the national postal operator, a public utility) were central government operations. With regard to Svalbard the questions particularly concern the level of services and how costs are met. The revenues from some of their services are lower than the costs. Until 1991 (the Telecommunications Administration) and 1993 (the Postal Services Administration), expenditure and revenues were included in the Svalbard budget, but they were then transferred to the budget of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. In connection with the budget debates in recent years, it has been assumed that the question of how these matters are to be dealt with would be discussed in the present Report to the Storting concerning Svalbard.
Article 4 of the Svalbard Treaty contains provisions that regulate telecommunications on the archipelago. Compliance with and enforcement of these provisions are Norwegian obligations on Svalbard. A more detailed discussion of Article 4 of the Svalbard Treaty is contained in section 6.1 of Report No. 40 (1985-86) to the Storting concerning Svalbard.
12.2 Postal services
With effect from 1 December 1996, the Postal Ser-vices Administration was converted into a state-owned limited liability company in accordance with a special act, Act of 22 November 1996 No. 65 relating to the organization of Norway Post, and designated Posten Norge BA. The company's trade name is Posten Norge BA. It carries out its mail-related activities according to the provisions of Act of 29 November 1996 No. 73 relating to the provision of universal postal services (the Postal Ser-vices Act). Conversion from a public utility into a state-owned limited liability company subject to special legislation means that the company is a separate legal entity, both legally and financially independent of the state and the government budget. Posten Norge is state-owned, and its form of organization and liability closely resemble those that apply to other public corporations (state-owned limited companies). Posten Norge will continue to perform the special community service obligations carried out by the Postal Services Administration on Svalbard as stipulated in connection with the conversion. It has been given the area of the reserved services, the profits from which, together with central government purchases of postal ser-vices, will finance the additional costs of keeping up the level of services required by the community, which goes beyond what is commercially profitable.
The overriding requirement Posten Norge has to meet is that its basic services, i.e. delivery of letter post up to 2kg, of newspapers and periodicals up to 2kg to subscribers, or of parcel post up to 20kg, and basic Postbanken (postal bank) ser-vices, have to be available to the population all over the country through a nationwide postal network.
Longyearbyen Post Office is the main office for postal services on Svalbard. Postal services are also provided at:
- 9172 Isfjord på Svalbard
- 9173 Ny-Ålesund
- 9174 Hopen
- 9175 Sveagruva
- 9176 Bjørnøya
- 9177 Hornsund
- 9178 Barentsburg
- 9179 Pyramiden (until 1998).
The level of service at these post offices varies. Longyearbyen provides full year-round services. At Ny-Ålesund and Barentsburg there are year-round branch office services. Elsewhere services are somewhat more limited than at the branch offices. The volume of mail at Ny-Ålesund has risen in recent years, owing to the increase in international research activities in the area. All mail to and from Ny-Ålesund is handled by Longyearbyen Post Office and sent on to Ny-Ålesund by air two or three times a week in the winter and up to five times a week in the summer. For 1998 and 1999, appropriations were made in the Svalbard budget to meet freight expenses between Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund.
Most mail to and from Svalbard is flown between Tromsø and Longyearbyen, and mail ser-vices to and from Svalbard are now almost as good as on the mainland. Some light parcel post is sent by Hurtigruta (the Coastal Steamer) in the summer season.
The bulk of the mail consists of parcel post, mostly to companies and shops. Posten Norge is used as the carrier because of the reasonable freight charges, there being no extra charge for the transport of parcels by air. In 1998, parcel post to and from Svalbard amounted to some 43 000 parcels, the number of consignments having more than doubled since the early 1980s. Mail between Svalbard and the mainland in 1998 cost NOK 5.8 million from Tromsø to Longyearbyen and NOK 1.4 million from Longyearbyen to Tromsø.
The total costs connected with the provision of mail services on Svalbard (operating a postal network, a post office, branch post offices and letter offices, etc.) amounted to about NOK 13 million in 1998. Additional costs are incurred in connection with the delivery of mail from Tromsø to addressees in Norway. Posten Norge is currently calculating the average costs of that part of its delivery service. In 1998, postal services on Svalbard brought in operating revenues of about NOK 1.8 million.
The present postal services on Svalbard are considered to be satisfactory. There are no plans to make significant changes in the services. The aim is to keep the postal services at their present levels, subject to any adaptations called for by changes in settlement and/or activities on Svalbard. The Government is of the opinion that the principle of unified postal rates should apply to Svalbard. The price levels for services should in other words correspond to the price levels for corresponding services on the mainland.
The carriage of mail on and to and from Svalbard has not as yet been included in the calculations relating to state purchases of commercially unprofitable postal services. As may be seen from the above, this service is not profitable for Posten Norge. In the Government's view, all the vital ser-vices imposed on Posten Norge on Svalbard, including the carriage of mail between Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen and to and from Svalbard, should be included in the basis for the calculation of state purchases of postal services, for which appropriations are made in the budget of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
12.3 Telecommunications services
From 1981, when the subscriber network in Longyearbyen was taken over from Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS (Store Norske) and automated, and until 1988, only insignificant amounts were invested in telecommunications on Svalbard.
In 1989, the Russian settlements Barentsburg and Pyramiden were linked up to the Norwegian telecom network. In 1996, Telenor took over the local subscriber network in Ny-Ålesund, which had been owned up to then by Kings Bay Kull Compani AS. In October 1996 a GSM (mobile telephone) base began operations in Longyearbyen. Its range is limited to Longyearbyen and the vicinity.
There has over the past three or four years been a considerable increase in the demand for tele-com solutions. The reason is the expansion that has taken place in research, education, and tourism, in addition to the significant rise in general economic activities on Svalbard. Modern research and education are both activities which are based on and demand new solutions based on new technologies. The establishment of the Svalbard satellite station (SvalSat) is based on reliable and modern telecommunications.
The services provided by Telenor Svalbard to customers in Longyearbyen are largely identical with those offered to mainland customers. Thesituation at Ny-Ålesund is about the same as in Longyearbyen. The subscriber network there has undergone major improvements, and is now up to the usual standards for such networks. Traffic between Longyearbyen and Svea uses a special satellite connection established by agreement with the users. However, the quality of the satellite link has not been satisfactory, and will therefore be replaced by a new radio link in the course of 1999. The telecom facilities available at Barentsburg are sufficient to meet current needs.
Through Telenor Svalbard AS, Telenor aims to keep up and further develop high-quality telecom services on and to and from Svalbard. Telenor definitely intends to meet new telecom demands, with special emphasis on satellite communications. New investments are to be expected, but they must primarily be made in areas where profitability can be achieved.
Telenor has cut its rates significantly, most recently with the introduction of the "Norgestakst" (uniform tariff) with effect from 1 July 1999. This has been accompanied by a distinct increase in the volume of traffic. As a result, the level of annual telephone revenues has remained more or less constant over the past two to three years. The increase in traffic has, however, necessitated an increase in the capacity of the satellite link between Svalbard and the mainland. Ordinary telephone traffic is now transmitted through a 2 Mbit connection between the earth station at Isfjord Radio and the earth station at Eik in Rogaland. The needs for capacity for purposes other than fixed telephony (mobile telephony, data transmission, leased lines, etc.) are served by a special 2 Mbitline to the mainland.
The additional costs incurred by the former Telecommunications Administration in connection with the vital services it performs on Svalbard were regarded as a quid pro quo for exclusive rights to speech telephony and hired links. With effect from 1 November 1994, the Telecommunications Administration was converted from a public utility into a state-owned limited company, Telenor AS, cf. the Act of 24 June 1994 No. 45. On 1 January 1997, Telenor's operations on Svalbard were established as a separate limited company, Telenor Svalbard AS. Telenor Svalbard AS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Telenor AS. In addition, Telenor's exclusive rights in the telecom sector were discontinued on 1 January 1998. In this connection it was assumed that Telenor would from then on receive payment for duties which the enterprise is obliged to perform for society and on which it makes losses. The losses Telenor makes on its operations on Svalbard have mainly been related to satellite-based telephone traffic to and from the mainland. Altogether, however, Telenor Svalbard AS made a pre-tax profit of about NOK 3.1 million in 1998.
In the debate on Proposition No. 70 (1995-96) to the Storting on withdrawal of the remaining exclusive rights in the telecom sector, it was assumed that the costs of vital services to society should not be charged to users. The possibility of meeting the extra costs by raising rates has been considered, but this was not found advisable. Meeting extra expenses through price adjustments would mean higher rates for customers on Svalbard than for customers on the mainland. The introduction of prices which covered costs to and from Svalbard would mean charging customers on Svalbard four times the uniform rate charged on the mainland. The Government is of the opinion that telecom rates for Svalbard must be calculated on the basis of the same principles as for the rest of the country. Any additional costs incurred by Tele-nor in providing vital telecom and data services to society in respect of Svalbard must be met as state purchases of services.
12.4 Svalbard Radio
In connection with the opening of the airport at Longyearbyen, Svalbard Radio (the coast radio service) was located in Svalbard Airport's control tower, together with the Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute's weather service (MET). With a staff of eight, these services are operated day and night. Seven of the eight work for the coast radio and AFIS service, and the eighth is professionally responsible for the weather service. The coast radio and AFIS services are administered by Tele-nor Nett, while the AFIS service is technically answerable to the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management. The MET service reports to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
In the past ten years, Norwegian and foreign fishing vessels have fished in the Svalbard region all year round. Calls by large passenger ships and tourist traffic by sea and by air are expected to continue to increase in the years ahead. At the same time, satellite coverage (INMARSAT) is proving inadequate as a means of communication in the Svalbard region. Svalbard Radio is therefore a necessary supplement.
The range of Svalbard Radio enables it to cover a considerably larger area than several mainland coast radio stations between them. Within this area, the primary task of Svalbard Radio is to listen effectively to international emergency and calling frequencies, to pass on emergency, urgent and safety messages, and to take part in sea rescue operations in accordance with the current guidelines for Norwegian rescue services.
Svalbard Radio combines the performance of this primary duty with commercial coast radio services. The worldwide emergency communication system GMDSS was installed at Svalbard Radio in 1996. All installations, seven channels in all, now have digital equipment. In addition, special broadcasts of weather, ice and other navigation information (NATEX) in the Svalbard region were begun in 1997. Svalbard Radio thus makes available a communication system which meets the specifications in international agreements and functions efficiently during search and rescue missions in the Svalbard area. The service is available to users of every nationality. Deficits are met through state purchases of emergency and safety services from Telenor's coastal radio service.