By Karine Kalantarian
A state regulator will bring the ArmenTel national telecommunications company to task next week over the mysterious near-collapse of Armenia’s biggest mobile phone network, it was claimed on Thursday.
Sources close to the State Commission on Protection of Economic Competition told RFE/RL that the regulatory body will summon ArmenTel executives to a meeting on August 12 that may well result in heavy fines on the company. They said the commission has already examined the state of wireless telecommunication in Armenia and will accuse the Greek-owned operator of grossly failing to meet the minimum quality standards. The fines could range from $300,000 to $500,000, the sources claimed.
The ArmenTel network has been effectively paralyzed ever since the launch on July 1 of Armenia’s second wireless network operated by a Lebanese-owned company, VivaCell. The situation somewhat improved in recent days. However, ArmenTel subscribers again found it virtually impossible to make phone calls on Thursday morning and afternoon.
The company, 90 percent of which is owned by Greece’s OTE telecom giant, has still not identified the causes of the breakdown despite repeated demands from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The planned meeting of the State Commission on Protection of Economic Competition suggests that the Armenian government may be losing patience with ArmenTel.
ArmenTel could not be reached for comment as its press service did not return phone calls. The most recent notice posted on the company’s website on July 15 expresses apologizes to customers and informs them that reasons for the network failure have still not been identified.
Meanwhile, its competitor, VivaCell, has expressed concern about the situation, saying that it is also incurring losses as a result. Still, the crisis appears to have helped VivaCell attract tens of thousands of subscribers in a matter of weeks.
The new operator, which currently covers only Yerevan and surrounding areas, is pressing ahead with its ambitious expansion plans, having signed multimillion-dollar contracts with Western telecom equipment suppliers. France’s Alcatel group said on Wednesday that it has teamed up with the Greek firm Intracom to install a modern network capable of catering for up to 400,000 subscribers all over Armenia.
“We are committed to enable VivaCell to become a stronger competitive operator in Armenia and to help them provide the Armenian end-users with the most advanced mobile services,” Johan Vanderplaetse, the Alcatel vice-president for the Commonwealth of Independent States, said in a statement.