By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Opposition groups in the Armenian parliament said on Tuesday that they will try to invalidate the government’s agreement with the ArmenTel operator settling a long-standing dispute on telephone charges, branding it as sellout.
Deputies representing the Communist, People’s and other smaller parties said they will push for passage of legislation banning per-minute charging of local phone calls.
The government, which opposed the introduction of the new billing system last September, has allowed ArmenTel to enforce it from February 1 in exchange for a number of concessions. Under the agreement signed last week, the Greek-owned telecommunications monopoly will charge individual subscribers connected to digital phone stations four drams (about 1 US cent) for every minute of local calls in excess of the six-hour monthly limit covered by the current flat fee of 900 drams. ArmenTel had previously set that time limit at two hours. The company will also offer an alternative option allowing its fixed-line customers to pay 2,400 drams up front for unlimited domestic calls each month.
The opposition factions, which together hold less than 30 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, said per-minute charging is unacceptable even on the new, more favorable terms. They said they will seek an amendment in the existing law on telecommunications banning the payment scheme until ArmenTel digitalizes all phone lines in Armenia.
One of the outspoken critics of the deal, Arshak Sadoyan, argued that this condition was included in the operating license granted to ArmenTel in 1998 after its $142.5 million takeover by the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization.
The opposition already tried to outlaw per-minute charges last autumn. But its initiative did not garner sufficient support in the parliament.