The battle for internet ownership is on.
Corporations big and small, controversial businessmen, politicians and secret offshore companies are all fighting to control our daily communications, information and, sometimes, our private data.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Euractiv and RISE Project spent months investigating who owns the Internet across Eastern Europe. In the coming weeks and months, we will release stories and data about the individuals and companies that control the technology that brings the internet to you.
Reporters across the region, assisted by our researchers at the Investigative Dashboard, combed through thousands of records in a quest to find out who owns the internet. What we found, in some instances, are shadowy figures hiding their identities behind offshore corporations; politicians; and even criminals.
Netbox, alone among the top 10 internet service providers in the Czech Republic, has convoluted links to a man accused of major crime. Netbox is a user-friendly and client-driven internet service provider (ISP), holding an estimated 3 percent of the market and serving municipalities and schools. But one of its three shareholders was involved in one of the biggest Czech bank frauds in the last 10 years, the case of Metropolitni Sporitelni Druzstvo.
The Czech Republic has one of the more vibrant Wi-Fi communities in the world, thanks to the short-sighted behavior of SPT Czech Telecom (CT), back in the days when it controlled the market. When CT jacked up prices by 60 percent in the late 1990s, Czech do-it-yourselfers took matters into their own hands. At the time, CT was the country’s sole provider of Internet via phone lines (ADSL) service and charged around a half of an average month’s salary for not-terribly-dazzling 256 kbps data transfer speed. While few could afford those rates, demand for internet was strong and growing stronger, […]
Moldova’s wireless and cable telecommunications market has 90 authorized providers of electronic communications services and networks, according to a list provided by the National Regulatory Agency for Electronic Communications and Information Technology (ANRCETI). Most internet service providers (ISPs) are locally owned companies that supply communications services and network access to businesses or residential customers in limited geographic areas.
The undisputed leader among Croatian internet service providers is Hrvatski Telekom (HT), which controls about three quarters of the broadband market. Of the top 10 broadband providers, HT controls three, while three others are starting bankruptcy procedures. Regardless, HT—along with the national Regulatory Authority for Network Industries—is on a mission to overturn broadband retail market regulation. The Croatian broadband market has evolved over the past 15 years. And there seems to be no space left for anyone else to enter the market as HT remains the king of the hill, while the smaller alternative operators are struggling to cope with […]
Four of the 10 biggest internet service providers (ISPs) in Serbia have hidden ownership via companies registered in offshore destinations or private equity firms, while two others are connected to questionable owners or activities. Now the Serbian government is preparing to privatize Telekom, the biggest state-owned telecommunications company. It’s early to say who might buy it, but given the high prevalence of murky private ownership, it may well be a mysterious company from Panama or some other exotic destination.
Telekom Slovenije (TS), Slovenia’s largest internet service provider, has just undergone its third unsuccessful privatization since 2000. Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH), which was selling a 72.75 percent stake of TS on behalf of the Republic of Slovenia, received just one binding offer to acquire the telecommunications giant. The sole bidder, a private equity company called Cinven, said it plans “to invest significantly to upgrade the network, to stop the company’s revenue decline, stabilize and then grow revenues sustainably for the long term”.
The Origo.hu online news portal, which for years was owned by Magyar Telekom, was one of Hungary’s most widely read and reputable news sites, operating relatively free from political pressure since 1998. That was until a change in relations between the owners and the government led to the most of the staff resigning, leaving the portal struggling to re-establish itself on the domestic media landscape. The drama unfolded in June 2014 when Origo.hu’s editor-in-chief, Gergő Sáling, unexpectedly quit, triggering a series of events that resulted in the mass resignations.
Internet is fast and popular in Bulgaria, and thanks to weak regulations, the market for internet services has developed rapidly in the last 10 years. The country ranked third in the world for internet speeds for customers in 2011, although by 2014 it had dropped to 20th place. An analysis of who owns Bulgaria’s internet service providers (ISPs) shows that the sector is generally clean and not infiltrated by organized crime figures or corrupt politicians. But fears are growing that a wealthy Russian businessman with close ties to the Kremlin is seeking to control Vivacom, the biggest and most strategic Bulgarian […]
Police, Military Security Agency (VBA) and Security Information Agency (BIA) have unhindered access to the customers of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and telecommunication companies in Serbia. It is hard to determine if that access is based on law. Police and intelligence services are supposed to get a court decision to gain access to the private data of online users. But in Serbia, it isn’t clear that they bother to do so. There is a law that regulates electronic communications. But not all internet service providers (ISPs) seem to understand what is meant by “retained data,” or how they should store or […]
The largest telecommunications company in Armenia today is the Armenia Telephone Company (ArmenTel). Since 2007, it has been wholly owned by VimpelCom Ltd., a Russian-Norwegian company valued at about € 342 million (US$ 384 million). ArmenTel, using the trade name Beeline, now provides mobile and fixed telephone and internet service throughout Armenia. Since 2007, the company has offered broadband internet services via asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology under the brand name HiLine. This provides fast internet service over copper telephone lines. In 2008, ArmenTel also launched the first 3G cell network in Armenia. In March 2012 it began offering […]
Tsvetan Vassilev, a fugitive Bulgarian banker currently wanted by Interpol, used to own a lot of companies in Bulgaria, among them the country’s biggest telecom, Vivacom, and the television station TV7. When he went on the lam, officials of a company called LIC 33 (it stands for Louvrier Investment Company) held a news conference in March of this year to say they had bought up all his properties for the symbolic sum of € 1. The company is managed by Russian-Belgian businessman Pierre Louvrier, pictured below in his Facebook account with Igor Strelkov, the former defense minister of the separatists in Donetsk, […]
Romania’s internet ownership includes controversial businessmen and politically connected figures. In many cases, the ownership is not clear because it is lost in a maze of offshore companies. Romania’s wireless and cable telecommunications market has 1,244 authorized providers of electronic communications services and networks, according to a list provided by the National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM). Most providers are locally owned companies that supply small-scale communications services and network access to businesses or residential customers in limited geographic areas. These providers share transparent and easily traceable ownership structures, unlike larger organizations. Reporters for RISE/OCCRP focused on […]
Foreign companies mostly control the telecommunications sector in Armenia: international holding companies, companies founded by other governments, and companies registered in various offshore zones. Russian companies dominate this sector, as they do other economic sectors in Armenia. Armenian government officials, both current and former, and their relatives own shares in the telecommunication sector. These shares are hidden within a web of offshore companies. Companies providing internet service in Armenia also supply telephone service, both cellular and landline. According to 2013 statistics, 46.3 percent of Armenia’s population uses the internet; 40 percent of households own a computer; and 35.6 percent of […]
Investigated Media Outlets
CONNECTIONS TO POLITICS
CONNECTIONS TO COURT CASES