The year 2002 witnessed for the first time an inversion of the growth heretofore registered at the level of installed main telephone accesses, reflecting the loss of the relative importance that fixed telephone service had enjoyed for many decades.
As a reflection of the fewer main telephone accesses, the service?s penetration rate has been dropping, and at the end of 2002 stood at 42.2 main telephones per 100 inhabitants, versus the 42.4 of 2001 and the 43.0 of 2000. Telephone density in ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Line) accesses rose in 2002 from 8.0 percent to 8.4 percent.
At the end of 2002, three years after the start of FTS liberalisation, about 95 percent of installed main telephone accesses pertained to PT Comunicações (98 percent at the end of 2001). That operator accounted for generation of about 89 percent of total traffic originated in that year (national traffic and outgoing international traffic).
The trend towards fewer installed public payphones registered since 2000 was maintained, with PT Comunicações holding 99.8 percent of the total for such phones at the end of 2002.
Efforts were made in 2002 to intensify competition and stimulate technological innovation in the local access market, via the promotion of unbundled access to the local loop. This would allow the provision of various services (from fixed telephone service to broadband internet access and including access to multimedia services, at different transmission speeds, supported by diverse technologies) but has to date had little impact on the offer of data, voice and video services by the new providers, specifically because the number of existing unbundled local loops is still low. The scant interest in the offer of local loop manifested in Portugal by the new operators and providers is paralleled at community level.
In the context of the local access network and regarding direct access, it is noted that the possibility of recourse to Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology had a smaller impact than expected in the new providers? activity. Even though operators may via FWA establish a direct connection with their telecommunications network customers, at the end of 2002 only 0.2 percent of main telephone accesses were supported by FWA. Also noteworthy is that the new operators? interest for this technology has diminished: indeed, the relative significance of FWA technology versus other kinds of telephone accesses represented at the end of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 about 26, 6 and 4 percent respectively of main telephone accesses installed by the new providers.
The number of main accesses in pre-selection dropped by about 15 percent in the first half-year of 2002, to represent 7 percent of the historic operator?s total main accesses. By the end of 2001, about 355,000 accesses (around 8 percent) had been pre-selected, with the national and/or international calls originating therein made via other service providers.
In terms of fixed telephone traffic, communications of a national scope (in terms of conversation minutes) dropped by about 11 percent in 2002, and continue to mainly be routed by direct access (94.2 percent in 2001 and 92.7 percent in 2002).
In outgoing international traffic (measured in conversation minutes), a reduction was also registered vis-à-vis 2001 (although at a lesser rate than for national traffic). This trend was even more accentuated for traffic gauged in terms of the number of calls. Direct access accounted in 2002 to about 79 percent of all routed outgoing international traffic (in terms of conversation minutes), a figure slightly above that of 2001.
The readjustment of the incumbent operator?s price table has led to a constant drop in the prices for international traffic and long distance traffic, associated with an increase in the price of local calls and monthly subscriptions. Overall, the prices charged for the provision of fixed telephone service have tended to diminish in real terms.
Tariff readjustment has been gradual, conditioned by the need, recognised by the European Commission, to not cause abrupt increases in the monthly invoice of users whose consumption profiles mainly comprise local calls or reduced traffic volumes ?historically also the users with the weakest economic resources.
In Portugal tariff readjustment has been more accentuated than the European Union (EU) average, particularly with regard to local calls, which have already been brought into line with the average European price. Prices for international calls have also been aligned with the European average, with the monthly fee below the European average. Only the prices of national long distance calls are above the European average.
At the end of 2002 there were 27 providers authorised to provide fixed telephone service, 16 of them operational. Of these, only 12 were actually operating, with six providing direct and indirect access traffic, three only routing direct access traffic and three only registering communications established by indirect access.