Russian GSM firm to return to Ashgabat

Russian GSM firm to return to Ashgabat

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Russian GSM firm to return to Ashgabat

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov bars critical internet coverage regarding his policies. A Russian mobile phone operator is set to return to the country. Hürriyet photo

Russian mobile communications provider MTS has said that it will resume offering services in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan at the end of August, after 20 months offline, Reuters reported.

Authorities suspended MTS subsidiary Barash Communication Technologies’ license in late 2010,
leaving 2.4 million subscribers without service, and its return is expected to prove a boon to mobile phone and Internet users in the isolated ex-Soviet state. The firm announced its plan to resume operations via Neytralniy Turkmenistan, a Russian-language daily, and the country’s official gazette, Turkmenistan, according to Anatolia news agency.

The company, however, warned in state newspaper advertisements earlier this week that customers might initially experience poor-quality connections. Subscribers will be able use phone numbers previously obtained from the Russian company, which is slated to announce a new call charges.

Barash commanded a lion’s share of the mobile phone market in the country, controlling about 85 percent. It signed an agreement for five years with MTS, and holds rights to extend the agreement for five more years. The Russian firm will pay 30 percent of its profits to Turkmen Telecom, according to the deal. State-controlled Tmcell Altyn Asyr is currently the sole GSM operator in the country, serving nearly 2.6 million subscribers.

Turkmen Internet users, who generally rely on mobile connections, as broadband contracts are prohibitively expensive, are unable to access a host of popular social-networking sites. News sites focusing on Central Asia or that carry coverage critical of authoritarian President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov are also reportedly barred.

The resumption of services is also expected to provide much-needed relief for the Moscow-based company, which is facing mounting troubles in neighboring Uzbekistan. A court in Uzbekistan canceled on Aug. 13 the operating licenses of an MTS subsidiary after presenting the company with a massive new tax claim. The Uzbek Agency for Communications and Information, a state regulator, requested that a Tashkent court cancel operating licenses belonging to the subsidiary, Uzdunrobita, MTS has said.