Internet Provider Sounds Alarm Over Phone Tariff Rise

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The planned major rise in telephone charges would spell disaster for the fledgling Internet business in Armenia–one of the country’s leading providers of Internet services warned on Tuesday. According to Andranik Aleksanian–chief manager of the Arminco company–the ArmenTel telecommunications monopoly will sharply reduce the already small number of Internet users if it goes ahead with the introduction of payment for every minute of domestic phone communication.

"If ArmenTel decides that one minute [of phone connection] is worth a particular amount of money and applies the measure to Internet users as well–only ten percent of them could afford paying for on-line services," Aleksanian told RFE/RL. He claimed that the new system would force the bulk of the existing two dozen providers into bankruptcy.

The Greek management of ArmenTel–defying strong government objections–announced earlier this month that it will charge nearly half of its customers on a per-minute basis starting from September. The new system is due to be gradually extended to the country’s entire phone network and would mean significantly higher phone bills for most phone users.

The Armenian minister of transport and telecommunications–Yervand Zakharian–said last week that the government and the subsidiary of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) have formed a joint commission which will try to bridge their differences over ArmenTel’s tariff policy. He said the two sides are likely to work out "a totally new tariff policy" involving fixed and mobile phone and Internet charges.

Local Internet providers–which have to rely on ArmenTel for external on-line links–have long complained that the prices set by the telecom monopoly are disproportionately high and stifle development of information technologies in Armenia. They put the number of regular Internet users at about 10,000 or less than one percent of the population.

Aleksanian said that because of the ArmenTel monopoly Armenia is already lagging behind its neighbors in terms of Internet use. He added that the company will face substantial financial losses unless it shows a more flexible approach–arguing that the rapid development of information technologies enables the providers to find alternative ways of satellite connection to the outside world.

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