Until 1990 Albania was one of the world's most isolated and controlled countries, and installation and maintenance of a modern system of international and domestic telecommunications was precluded. Callers previously needed operator assistance even to make domestic long-distance calls. Albania's telephone density was the lowest in Europe, at 1.4 units for every 100 inhabitants. Tiranė accounted for about 13,000 of the country's 42,000 direct lines; Durrės, the main port city, ranked second with 2,000 lines; the rest were concentrated in Shkodėr, Elbasan, Vlorė, Gjirokastėr, and other towns. At one time, each village had a telephone but during the land redistribution of the early 1990s peasants knocked out service to about 1,000 villages by removing telephone wire for fencing. Most of Albania's telephones were obsolete, low-quality East European models, some dating from the 1940s; workers at a Tiranė factory assembled a small number of telephones from Italian parts. In the early 1990s, Albania had only 240 microwave circuits to Italy and 180 to Greece carrying international calls. The Albanian telephone company had also installed two U-20 Italtel digital exchanges. The exchange in Tiranė handled international, national, and local calls; the Durrės exchange handled only local calls. Two United States firms handled direct-dial calls from the United States to Tiranė.
The communist regime used radio and television for propaganda purposes. In 1992 the Albanian government owned and operated seventeen AM radio stations and one FM station that broadcast two national programs and various regional and local programs. An estimated 514,000 Albanians had radio receivers in 1987, according to the United States government. Nine television stations, also controlled by the communist regime, broadcast to the approximately 255,000 television sets owned by Albanians in 1987. Although the regime gave minimal support to domestic communications, it provided for an extensive external shortwave and medium-wave system. Programs were broadcast in eight foreign languages, in addition to Albanian, and reached Africa, the Middle East, North America, South America, and Europe. Albania's external broadcast service was one of the largest such services in the world. The programming was heavily propagandist, according to Western observers.
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