By Ruzanna Stepanian
The ArmenTel operator and his recently chosen Lebanese competitor have until the end of this week to iron out their differences hampering the launch of Armenia’s second mobile phone network, Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian warned on Wednesday.
The two companies have yet to work out practical modalities of making their wireless networks compatible. The dispute revolves around fees which the Lebanese-owned firm K-Telecom will be charged for using air frequencies currently belonging to ArmenTel.
Top K-Telecom executives say ArmenTel is demanding disproportionately high tariffs in a bid to delay the launch of the second network which was initially expected in August. ArmenTel denies the claims. The two sides have been negotiating for almost two weeks to try to find a mutually acceptable arrangement.
“If they fail to reach agreement this week, then the regulatory body will have the legal right to summon the two parties and force them to sign a compatibility agreement on its own terms,” Manukian told RFE/RL, referring to his ministry. “Our objective is to have that agreement signed as soon as possible so that we can speed up the entry of the second operator.”
Manukian indicated that government intervention would likely favor K-Telecom, complaining that “ArmenTel wants to set high tariffs.” He argued that business competition is vital for the development of mobile telephony in Armenia which has lagged behind its neighbors in that regard.
ArmenTel, which has failed to meet Armenian demand in mobile phone services despite being owned by one of Europe’s biggest telecom firms, is widely blamed for the sector’s underdeveloped state. The Armenian government hopes that its decision last November to partly liberalize the sector will remedy the problem.
The move was made possible by a compromise agreement that ended ArmenTel’s long-standing disputes with the government.