Private phone companies can begin operating in Germany on Jan. 1, 1998, the government announced Monday, and there will be no limit on the number applying for licenses.
Competitive phone services - much like the U.S. market - should lower prices and provide better services to German consumers, said Wolfgang Boetsch, the post and telecommunications minister, presenting his plans at a news conference.Deutsche Telekom, the German public phone monopoly, is to begin selling shares starting next year.
Major U.S. and other international telecommunications firms are eager to get a piece of the German market, the third largest after the United States and Japan, with 60 billion marks ($43 billion) in 1992 domestic sales.
The first licenses to private companies should be granted early in 1997, Mr. Boetsch said. He wouldn't speculate on how many would be granted.
Among the top bidders are expected to be joint ventures by British Telekom and fiber optic network-operator Viag; the German conglomerate Thyssen and Bell South; Daimler-Benz and Canada's Northern Telecom; and energy conglomerate Veba with Britain's Cable and Wireless.
Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt and American investors had been pushing for a quicker opening of the German market. But other German officials reportedly felt the privatization of Deutsche Telekom would be damaged by quick exposure to foreign competition.
"The date of 1998 was set at the highest levels of the German government," Mr. Boetsch said, noting that all European Union countries are supposed to open their telecommunications markets by that date.
U.S. regulatory officials have considered rules that could hold up a bid by Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom to buy 20 percent of Sprint Corp., because of complaints by other U.S. carriers about limited access to Germany's market.
Mr. Boetsch is expected to try to push the Telekom/Sprint deal during a visit to Washington this week.