By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government pledged on Wednesday to thwart a sharp increase in fixed-line phone tariffs planned by the embattled ArmenTel operator which looks set to lose its lucrative monopoly on wireless and Internet services.
The Greek-owned company announced last month that it will double the charge for every minute of local phone calls to 8 drams (1.5 U.S. cents) starting from January. It also said it will reduce from 360 to 120 minutes the monthly threshold for the highly unpopular per-minute billing mechanism introduced last year. In addition, ArmenTel intends to charge dial-up Internet users 2 drams per minute. They currently pay half that price.
According to Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian, the government is opposed to those measures and will prevent them from taking effect. “According to ArmenTel’s operating license, new telephone fees are to be confirmed by a body authorized by the government and my ministry,” he said during the cabinet’s regular question-and-answer session in parliament. “I declare that we won’t confirm them.”
Manukian branded the ArmenTel plans a “blackmail” connected to the telecom operator’s contractual dispute with the government. “This is an attempt to once again warn the government against breaking their monopoly,” he claimed.
The fee increase was announced shortly after the government unilaterally began a formal procedure for revoking ArmenTel’s exclusive rights to mobile phone communication and Internet access to the outside world, accusing it of mismanaging the services. It is expected to be completed before the end of this year.
ArmenTel insists that the punitive action would breach the terms of its 1998 takeover by the Hellenic Telecommunication Organization (OTE) and would be challenged in an international court.