By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s leading Internet service providers blamed the ArmenTel telecommunications monopoly on Tuesday for a four-day effective disruption of the country’s Internet connection with the rest of the world.
The connection was cut off on Friday and was extremely slow in the next three days due to what ArmenTel officials described as two separate accidents on a fibro-optic cable that handles virtually all of Armenia’s external Internet traffic. The Greek-owned company, which has a controversial legal monopoly on the service, said the cable was seriously damaged in neighboring Georgia and off the Russian Black Sea coast and will not be fully repaired at least until the end of this week.
A company spokeswoman, Hasmik Chutilian, told RFE/RL that the Internet communication, which remained erratic on Tuesday, will be carried out through reserve channels running across Georgia and Iran until the repairs are over.
Service providers claimed, however, that the bulk of the Armenian Internet traffic was rerouted to Turkey via Georgia. They also slammed ArmenTel for its failure to put in place an alternative satellite link that would end Armenia’s reliance on a single cable that regularly gets damaged on Georgian territory.
According to Grigor Saghian of Arminco, Armenia’s largest Internet provider, there have been at least two dozen such accidents since the beginning of last year. “I am surprised that they are not creating a reliable and fast satellite connection. It will cost them only $100,000 or so,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Armenian government obligated ArmenTel to issue licenses to those providers that are willing to launch satellite links and pay the telecom operate for using them. “ArmenTel is still not giving those licenses,” said Saghian.
Albert Tonoyan, deputy head of the Web.am provider, said his company applied for a license several months ago and is still awaiting a reply from ArmenTel. “The monopoly does not make ArmenTel interested in finding quick solutions,” he told RFE/RL. “They are only keen to make money. They act as slowly as possible and invest as little as possible.”
The ArmenTel monopoly, a key term of the company’s 1998 takeover by Greece’s OTE telecom giant, has long been blamed for the poor quality and relatively high cost of Internet connection in Armenia. Analysts consider it a serious obstacle to the development of information technology, one of the new and most promising sectors of the Armenian economy. The Armenian government has declared the sector’s expansion a top economic priority.
The government has reportedly decided that the new owner of ArmenTel, which was put up for sale by OTE last spring, will not inherit the Internet monopoly from the Greeks. The latter are expected to announce the winner of an ongoing international tender for ArmenTel by the end of this month.
In the meantime, the providers are counting substantial losses which they claim to be incurring as a result of the Internet disruption. In Saghian’s words, it made a dent not only in their finances but Armenia’s image in the international IT community.
“A single accident like this may have nullified several years of work to promote IT in Armenia,” said the Arminco executive. “There is hardly any other country in the world that declares IT a top priority but may have no Internet connection for several days.”