1. Despite – but also partially due to – the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession of the Greek economy, the TMT sector has shown remarkable activity. The unprecedented digital transformation, the launch of 5G networks, the collaboration between MNOs for the exploitation of base station infrastructure (Vantage Towers Greece), strategic M&A and newcomer entry into the market have all offered TMT players and lawyers an array of new challenges and opportunities.
II. CURRENT ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
2. At the end of 2020, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (the “HSA’) estimated the economic recession in Greece at approximately 8%. The turnover of the majority of TMT services declined considerably. Indicatively, according to HSA data, TMT corporates recorded turnover decreases of (a) 9.7% in publishing services, (b) 14.7% in production of films, videos, and television programs, (c) 4.6% in television programming activities, (d) 2.6% in electronic communication services and (e) 2.6% in IT services. Conversely, data processing and information services recorded an increase of 7.1%.
3. The situation is expected to reverse as vaccination progresses and the pandemic subsides.
III. ACTIVITY, TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS
A. 5G Networks Deployment
4. In December 2020, the three current MNOs were awarded the use of the 5G spectrum, in the context of a tender process, and undertook specific population coverage obligations for virtually the entirety of the Greek population, progressively by 2024. MNOs launched 5G services in Athens and other large cities and are in the process of gradually deploying the 5G networks.
5. We expect that, starting from 2021, 5G networks will greatly impact the way people live and work and enterprises operate and are likely to create an uplift for the Greek economy, by reinventing how we communicate, due to increased data speed, network capacity, latency and other efficiency gains.
6. In particular, regarding the TMT sector, 5G networks will: (a) provide consumers with more options and services; (b) pave the way for the so-called Internet of Things (the “IoT”), with radical positive impact on the function of enterprises; (c) provoke the entry of MVNOs into the market, an option which is, currently, virtually non-existent; and (d) further expand the development of private mobile networks.
7. Investments in start-ups and tech companies to work via the 5G spectrum in Greece and abroad will be promoted notably by the “Faistos” fund. The fund will have an initial liquidity of € 93m, as well as resources that will come from private shareholders, through the process of raising private funds. The companies in which the fund will invest will also have access to the 5G frequencies that have remained in the Greek State and cooperate or work for the Greek State, universities and/or research and development centres.
B. New Activities & New Players in the Electronic Communications Market
8. The activities of MNOs have already expanded in the field of Information, Communication, and Technology (“ICT”) services and it is expected to be further developed.
9. The acquisition of a fixed telephony services, IS, pay-TV provider and holder of an MVNO licence (Forthnet / Nova) by a leading provider of electronic communications services and media in South-East Europe (United Group) is expected to bring changes in the electronic communication and media ecosystem.
10. Along with the expressed interest of companies (Volton, Starlink) to facilitate different forms of electronic communication, such as MVNOs or satellite internet, it is obvious that there is room for development and initiative in the field of electronic communications and that new M&A is possible.
C. Green investments – Energy
11. The use of renewable and green energy is likely to be one of the major trends in the years to come, with huge potential of development and cooperation. Energy is important for the TMT industry, especially as regards 5G networks and data centres / cloud services. The use of renewable energy and the development of the current providers to another sector (energy or electronic communication), and/or the cooperation between the two fields, would enable significant cost savings in the long run.
D. Installation of Fibre Optics
12. Fibre optics development is still largely ongoing by the current MNOs, but also by other providers, installing their own proprietary network (Inalan, Grid Telecom). Fibre optics installation is expected to be further developed with the support of EU recovery funds. Discussions regarding access rights and the further streamlining and expediting of the relevant procedures at the administrative level are expected to continue.
E. Licensing – EMF Issues
13. While recent legislative amendments significantly simplified the procedures regarding the licensing of base stations, the jury is still out on the streamlining of environmental approval procedures. 5G network deployment will most likely reignite discussions of the EMF impact on public health and the environment.
F. Telemedicine and E-health
14. The COVID-19 pandemic has given a huge boost to end-user telemedicine services in Greece. Healthcare providers are continuously developing and presenting innovative remote digital medical services, such as virtual/digital clinics for direct medical advice, as well as medical treatments that are delivered electronically, with the use of applications and/or other digital platforms. In this context, personal data protection is the primary concern.
G. Data Centres / Cloud Technology
15. Greece meets its digital “regional” player destiny as it enters into the rapidly growing industry of cloud technology and data centres. The acquisition of a leading data centre company active in the Balkan area (Lamda Hellix) by Digital Realty, together with Microsoft and Amazon announcing plans to invest in the country, among others, have set the stage for Greece to become a tech hub for the wider region that will include Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The need for additional infrastructure and energy will surely require – and should give rise to – new investments.
16. The competition in the pay-TV field is gradually rising as the rapid spread of Over-The-Top (“OTT”) media content platforms has pushed providers to move from traditional models of satellite availability to online entertainment platforms. Currently, providers are opting to offer their content to consumers via the Internet on any device and at any location, without decoders or minimum engagement. The Greek pay-TV market is estimated to have almost 1.1m subscribers, not including Greek subscribers to international platforms.
I. Artificial Intelligence
17. Artificial intelligence (“AI”), robotics and similar technologies are expected to give rise to various legal issues and policy discussions. The number of technology companies developing or using AI seems to be growing rapidly. Currently, no AI-specific legislation exists in Greece. Therefore, as things stand, for the operation of AI systems to be lawful, compatibility with several principles and legal texts (national or international), such as the ECHR, the GDPR etc, is required.
18. Blockchain technology may apply to various industry sections, such as financial services, recording-storing-sharing of data, digital contracts (smart contracts), identification services, supply chain etc. A variety of opportunities and new challenges will surely arise in this regard for TMT corporates and lawyers alike.
19. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily accelerated the digital transformation in both the private and public sectors. The new reality of remote performance of daily tasks, such as telecommuting or tele-education, has created a number of new technical and legal demands and challenges. Digitalisation in Greece is expected to be further developed with the support of EU recovery funds. While digitalisation is planned to be fully implemented by 2025, through public-private collaborations, the bureaucracy of Greek public administration would be hard to minimise. More radical changes should be implemented in order to minimise wait times and facilitate the day-to-day business activities of companies and citizens.
IV. NATIONAL AND EU LEGISLATION
A. Electronic Communications
20. Greek Law 4727/2020 transposed the EU Electronic Communications Code Directive (the “EECC”) into the national legal order. A series of secondary legislation (administrative acts etc) governing the implementation of the EECC is expected in the near future.
21. In 2020, the European Commission published its proposals for the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. The former aims to set out a single set of rules for digital services, whereas the latter will focus on large companies providing services online, ensuring fair and open digital markets.
22. A revised EU Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (the “NIS2”) was proposed on 16 December 2020, in view of the unprecedented digitalisation of the last few years.
C. Personal Data
23. A negotiation for a revised set of rules on the protection of privacy and confidentiality in the use of electronic communications services is currently under way between the Council and the European Parliament. These “ePrivacy” rules are going to repeal and update the existing ePrivacy Directive of 2002, in order to cater for new technological and market developments. The revised ePrivacy rules will particularise and complement the GDPR, being lex specialis thereto. Should this legislation be agreed, it would be enforced two years later.
24. Personal data plays an important role and remains one of the top priorities to be addressed in the TMT sector, along with cybersecurity and network safety. Due to the TMT sector’s potential (being subject to or even promoting huge technological change), the law has to keep up and constantly be adjusted to new sectoral developments and needs.
25. There are many opportunities for the TMT sector, associated with the pivotal role of electronic communications and technology in a period of increased digitalisation. The need for better and quicker communication, the expansion of entertainment, the digital transformation of business and public administration operations etc give out strong indications that TMT will become a cornerstone for many other economic sectors.