ALTERNATIVE FOR COMPUTER BUSINESS IN BULGARIA
One of the reasons for the inadequate development of information technologies (IT) in Bulgaria is the inability of IT companies to turn them into a genuine source of proceeds. Nobody from the circles of computer experts and entrepreneurs would now venture to deny that the Bulgarian IT business is a money-loser. The other main reason for the slow development of the branch is that the people who have taken up that business have not yet found the optimal way for satisfying the real needs of consumers and are still offering products and services, which are often used by a limited circle.
A project for a network of communication centres on the country's territory has been drafted recently and it has real chances to offer solutions to both problems.
The project follows the example of other European states and of many countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It aims at stage-by-stage establishment of information and telecommunication centres, concentrated mainly in smaller settlements. In that way we hope to at least partly satisfy the needs of access to information in small towns, said Ventsislav Ivanov, member of the recently set up Bulgarian Association of Telecommunication Centres.
Seven pilot centres of that kind have been launched so far, all of them in small settlements in the region of Pazardjik - namely in the towns of Septemvri, Velingrad, Bankya, and others. Their number is expected to reach 25 by the year-end, and continue to grow afterwards. One of the first services to be offered by these centres in predominantly agricultural regions is to provide information about the demand for farm products, the offered inputs, machines of land cultivation, and about firms which are willing to invest in a specific production. That will create a real opportunity to avoid the chain of middlemen in the trade in agricultural products, Ventsislav Iliev believes.
The idea for the establishement of a network of telecommunication centres has not been born as a result of the economic conditions in Bulgaria. Similar centres have been operating for a long time in most Westeuropean countries, yielding positive results by providing information for the needs of the population. For that reason they have gradually become a fairly profitable business. Such centres are already functioning in Poland and Hungary where unlike in Bulgaria, the local governments support their development by considerable preferencial treatment. The Hungarian State, for example, offers municipal premises at knock-down prices, free access to INTERNET and to many state-of-the-art recent technologies such as ISDM (Integrated Services Digital Network), etc. As a result, almost 170 telecommunication centres are currently opearting in that country. By the number of such centers Bulgaria is ahead of Romania and Macedonia only.
Except for information, the founders of telecommunication centres intend to use them for a large-scale educational campaign about the new technologies in the small towns. This will be effected through organization of training courses at symbolical prices, which according to representatives of the Bulgarian Association of Telecommunication Centres would help for broader use of INTERNET in the small settlements and would eventually inrease the profits of the centres themselves.