In a 200-page book the treasury outlines its plans for cuts, taxes, allocations and reforms that it plans to set before the cabinet next Monday. Behind every page there's a story, but for now we will just look at Page 35 - Efficient Use of Radio Frequencies.
The story begins once upon a time in 1987, when it was decided to charge a fee for each civil use of a wireless frequency. This has affected the Broadcasting Authority, Bezeq, cellular phone operators, license-holders of commercial television channels, radio station operators, the cable companies and satellite TV.
The military holds about half of the first frequency band up to 1 gigahertz - the most wanted band. In addition, it makes extensive use of the band over 1 gigahertz, but does not pay a penny. This could have continued forever had not Cellcom entered the saga.
Cellcom wants to improve the quality of its GSM technology, and for that it needs the 900 megahertz frequency, but the army had already been allocated most of the band for setting up its independent cellular system known as "Mountain Rose".
Why does the army need its own system that would cost NIS 400 million just to set up? Why can't it use an existing system? Here is an example of blatant inefficiency and gross misuse of money at a time when the defense establishment has been called to make sharp cuts.
But the army was not satisfied with most of the 900 megahertz band and ganged up on the Communications Ministry a year and a half ago to get the rest by claiming that letting a civilian cellular system operate in the same band would disrupt Mountain Rose.
At this point, Yitzhak Peterburg, Cellcom's CEO sent a letter to Uri Yogev, head of the treasury's budgets division, in which he explained how important this matter is to civilians, because without the GSM-900 frequency, Cellcom cannot upgrade its services, and we all know how cellular services have become the cornerstone of our business and private lives.
Cellcom also furnished the ministry with the expert opinion of international consultants LCC and two former officers of the Communications Corps, all of whom agreed that granting the 900 megahertz frequency for civilian use would not infringe on Mountain Rose. But the IDF was not convinced, so the budgets department decided to use that well-worn tactic - let them pay.
Now back to Page 35, where the Finance Ministry proposes a change in the wireless telegraph ordinance so that from January 2004 the IDF will have to pay for all the radio frequencies it uses.
The treasury hopes that by putting a price tag on the frequencies the army will think twice if it really needs it all. And if the Communications Ministry decides in favor of Cellcom, then the treasury will come out with a tender for what remains of the 900 megahertz band.
It will collect millions of shekels from Cellcom or Partner - and that will surely help put something in an empty coffer.
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