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.
These providers share transparent and easily traceable ownership structure, unlike larger organizations. Reporters for RISE Moldova focused on the major providers of cable and wireless (satellite) Internet and TV retransmission services across the country, as identified by the most recent ANRCETI fixed and mobile communications access reports: Moldtelecom/Unite, Starnet, Orange, Moldcell and Sun Communications.
The largest ISP on the market, according to ANRCETI, is Moldtelecom, which is wholly state-owned with a market share of between 60 and 65 percent. Until August 2015, the general manager was Vitalie Iurcu, who is now Vice-Minister of Economy. Iurcu is a member of a business association created and owned by controversial businessman Vlad Plahotniuc, the first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party).
The company has the country’s most extensive fiber optic network and provides services nationwide, with network connections to IP traffic exchange centers in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Kiev and Moscow.
The second largest ISP is StarNet, a group of 11 companies controlled directly or through intermediaries by businessman Alexander Machedon. StarNet has a market share of between 20 and 22 percent.
Moldtelecom and StarNet compete vigorously for market share, with unfair competition disputes arising regularly over subscribers.
For example in 2015, the Moldova Competition Council fined StarNet 0.21 percent of its turnover for 2013 for unfairly luring away Moldtelecom customers by promising to pay them € 500 leu (US $25) for switching over to StarNet.
A shrinking share of the market belongs to mobile operator Orange Moldova, which is 95 percent owned by Orange S.A., a French multinational telecom corporation; and five percent owned by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank.
While Orange’s parent company in Moldova accounted for 20 percent of the market in 2006, since then it has not managed to compete effectively with the two market leaders and has seen its share fall to seven percent in 2008 and three percent in 2014.
Sun Communications accounts for another three percent of the market. Sun is nearly two-thirds owned by Management Lekert Ltd. of the British Virgin islands (63.7 percent), with the rest held by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), 27.6 percent; John Maxemchuk, 5 percent; Alexander Scerbina, 2 percent; and Neocom SRL, 1.7 percent.
Among the rest, the bigger operators are the state Center for Special Telecommunications and Molddata, Arax-Impex SRL, Globnet SRL and Rename SRL.
Five companies have the right to carry out installation, operation, management and maintenance of electronic communications networks in the border area of the Republic of Moldova: Moldtelecom, StarNet, Orange Moldova, Norma and Moldcell.
Orange Moldova is the largest mobile carrier in the country. It offers mobile Internet access via 3G and 4G networks over most of the country, holding 60 percent of the mobile access market.
Moldcell is the second largest mobile carrier in the country, offering similar service with a market share of 24 percent; state-owned Moldtelecom holds 16 percent of the mobile market.
In Transnistria, the company Interdnestrkom (IDKNet) is the leading ISP and the only operator of fixed and mobile telephony. The company is controlled by Sheriff, the largest group of companies in the Transnistrian region, encompassing stores, petrol stations, factories, banks, football teams and telephone operators.
Litigation and criminal investigations
On Feb. 26, 2015, StarNet’s database was hacked and posted on a Russian portal, exposing the data of 53,000 customers including several thousand businesses and organizations.
It was not the first attack on Moldova. Weeks earlier the databases of five public institutions were attacked by foreign hackers and only by the intervention of the Prosecutor General, the Secret Service and the Center for Special Telecommunications was a virus identified and blocked.
In the StarNet case, personal data of the company’s customers and staff were distributed on the Internet. Alex Railean, professor at the Technical University of Moldova, said that some of the blame falls on the company for negligence in storing and maintaining their databases.