By Shakeh Avoyan
The Armenian government has again postponed the break-up of a legal monopoly enjoyed by ArmenTel because it needs two more weeks to find a “mutually acceptable” settlement with the Greek-owned telecom operator, Justice Minister David Harutiunian announced on Friday.
The decision to end ArmenTel’s exclusive rights to wireless phone and Internet services in Armenia was made at the beginning of this year and was due to come into effect on June 30. Its implementation was delayed for three months after the two sides agreed to try to resolve the dispute through negotiations, with the Greeks effectively freezing their lawsuit with the International Court of Economic Arbitration in London.
The government extended the September 28 deadline by two weeks. According to Harutiunian, it had to approve another two-week extension because “we haven’t yet reached certain agreements.” “But I must say that the process is very positive and we feel that the negotiations are going on successfully,” he told a news conference.
Harutiunian, who represents the government at the talks, again refused to disclose any details of the ongoing discussions. But he implied that ArmenTel’s parent company, OTE, has already agreed in principle to give up its unchallenged grip on mobile telephony and that the two sides are currently working out technical aspects of its future relationship with a second wireless operator. He predicted that ArmenTel will face competition in the country’s underdeveloped mobile phone sector as early as next year.
“Our objective is not to have a bad ArmenTel and another, good operator,” said Harutiunian. “Our objective is to ensure that both provide good services.”
“We are trying to find mutually acceptable solutions,” he added.
The government decision, which was branded illegal by the Greeks, also concerned the ArmenTel monopoly on Armenia’s external Internet traffic which local service providers complain has led to extremely high prices and low quality. They say it is stifling the development of information technology in the country.
According to a recent newspaper report, the authorities will allow ArmenTel to retain the monopoly as part of a compromise deal. But Harutiunian assured reporters that the government remains committed to liberalizing the Internet market as well.
OTE, meanwhile, continues to signal its intention to sell ArmenTel to another foreign firm. The company’s chairman, Panayis Vourloumis, did not exclude such a possibility in an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini published last month.