By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s Greek-owned telecommunications monopoly, ArmenTel, has suspended sales of its heavily advertised prepaid cards for mobile phones in the face of an unexpectedly strong demand.
The payment scheme was introduced on March 8 as an alternative to the existing billing system which involves a monthly subscription fee of 10,000 drams ($17.5) and the per-minute rate of $0.18. Card users face much higher charges for local calls: $0.45 per minute.
ArmenTel has already sold 15,000 so-called “easycards,” bringing to 45,000 the total number of mobile phone users in Armenia. Long lines outside the company’s offices were a daily occurrence until it decided to stop the sales.
“People are still asking for the easycards, but we can’t give any answers as to when they will be again available,” said Spartak Gasparian, an ArmenTel branch manager in Yerevan.
The ArmenTel spokeswoman, Hasmik Chutilian, told RFE/RL that the prepaid cards will again be available after the company expands the existing mobile phone capacity.
Customers had to buy handsets for the “easycards” only from ArmenTel until the government’s Commission on the Protection of Economic Competition found last month that the arrangement violates Armenia’s anti-trust legislation. The company was fined 5 million drams ($8,800) and ordered to allow buyers to return their phones.