By Emil Danielyan
The national telecommunication company ArmenTel was fined 300 million drams ($1 million) by state anti-trust regulators on Wednesday for allegedly seeking to squeeze Armenia’s leading Internet service providers out of business.
The hefty fine relates to the recent launch of a new ArmenTel service that gives users high-speed access to the Internet at a much lower cost.
The Internet providers claim that the Russian-owned company is refusing to allow them to use its newly modernized facilities for providing a similar service. They lodged a complaint to the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) last month.
The commission found the complaint legitimate on June 18 and gave ArmenTel 15 days to rectify the situation. It ruled on Wednesday that the telecom operator has failed to do that and is thereby abusing its dominant position to gain unfair advantage over competitors.
ArmenTel has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to challenge the decision in court.
The company voluntarily relinquished its controversial legal monopoly on Armenia’s Internet access to the outside shortly after its September 2006 takeover by Russia’s Vimpelcom. The move was welcomed by local Internet providers and their customers that have long complained about the poor quality and high cost of the service.
The providers have since remained heavily reliant on ArmenTel’s fibro-optic cables running to neighboring Georgia and Iran and processing the bulk of Armenia’s Internet traffic.