By Atom Markarian
ArmenTel’s decision to charge its customers for every minute of domestic phone calls “has no legal force” because the Greek-owned telecommunications monopoly did not get the government’s approval for its implementation, Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Andranik Manukian announced on Thursday.
“If they apply it, the government may bring ArmenTel to account for violating its operating license,” Manukian said. “ArmenTel has not complied with its requirements and cannot enforce the per-minute billing.”
It was the minister’s first public reaction to the highly unpopular increase in phone charges which took effect on September 1. The Armenian government, accused of inability to prevent the increase, has come under strong public pressure to make its implementation impossible. Manukian’s deputy on Wednesday urged people to ignore extra fees to be charged by the subsidiary of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE).
But a popular boycott of the so-called “time charging” may result in a widespread cut-off of telephone lines and exacerbate the already tense relations between the government and ArmenTel.
The Greek telecoms group insists that it is entitled to a unilateral increase in tariffs under the terms of its $200 million purchase of ArmenTel in 1998. But government officials in Yerevan point to the company’s operating license which they say requires the telecom ministry’s go-ahead for such decisions.
Justice Minister David Harutiunian indicated on Thursday that the dispute increasingly appears likely to be put before an international adjudicator. Yerevan has threatened to take a legal action against OTE in the past.