New ArmenTel owner vague on investments, prices

Armenia Materials 7 December 2006 14:34 (UTC +04:00)

(armenialiberty) - The new Russian owner of the ArmenTel national operator on Wednesday pledged to improve the quality of telecommunication services in Armenia but stopped short of making specific investment commitments, reports Trend.

Top executives from Vimpel-Communications (VimpelCom), a leading Russian mobile phone operator, also declined to specify mistakes which they believe were committed by Greece's OTE telecom giant during its nearly nine-year ownership.

We do not want to repeat mistakes of the previous owner, the company's deputy chairman, Vladimir Ryaboko, told a news conference in Yerevan. He refused to elaborate, saying that his company is still examining OTE's track record in Armenia.

VimpelCom won last month an international tender for OTE's 90 percent stake in the Armenian telecom monopoly in a nearly $500 million deal that was promptly approved by Armenian state regulators.

The Greek firm claims to have invested more than $200 million in Armenia's fixed-line phone network, a figure which the Armenian government has repeatedly dismissed as grossly inflated. Government officials argue that only 43 percent of phone communication in the country is now provided through digital exchanges. Under the terms of its 1998 takeover of ArmenTel, OTE was supposed to digitalize 80 percent of the Soviet-era network by now.

Ryaboko and ArmenTel's newly appointed executive director, Oleg Bliznyuk, would not say how much VimpelCom intends to invest in it in the coming years. They were also vague about fixed-line phone tariffs which ArmenTel's previous management sought to drastically raise next year. Armenia's Public Services Regulatory Commission refused to allow any price hike last month, but may again consider the issue early next year.

The tariff may go up or go down, Ryaboko said.

The VimpelCom executives also declined to comment on reports that the Armenian government has offered to sale its 10 percent share in ArmenTel in return for the Russian operator giving up ArmenTel's controversial monopoly on Armenia's Internet communication with the outside world.