By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s main mobile phone operator, ArmenTel, was fined $400,000 by a state regulator on Friday for the more than month-long breakdown of its network that caused widespread anger among its nearly 300,000 subscribers.
The State Commission on the Protection of Economic Competition ruled that the Greek-owned company, which maintains its legal monopoly on fixed-line telephony and Internet services in Armenia, has abused its “dominant position” in the cellphone business. It said the quality of wireless connection provided by ArmenTel has drastically deteriorated since June 30 and still fails to meet the minimum standards.
The decision came after a hearing attended by ArmenTel representatives. While accepting the blame for the network’s near-collapse, they strongly denied any abuse. They argued that Armenians now have a choice between ArmenTel and a second cellphone operator, VivaCell.
“Nearly 300,000 people can’t make phone calls because of you,” the commission’s chairman, Ashot Shahnazarian, shot back. “This is not a phone, I can only use it as a hammer,” he said, brandishing his handset.
Making or receiving phone calls has been very difficult and at times impossible for ArmenTel service users ever since the launch of the VivaCell network on July 1. ArmenTel has still not provided a clear explanation of the causes of the breakdown. Its technical director, Yannis Smarnakis, reiterated on Friday that the problem will be fully solved by the end of this month.
Under Armenian law, ArmenTel has 10 days to pay the fine or take the regulatory body to the court. Smarnakis said the company will decide what to do in the coming days.