Thursday, April 13, 2006

Cell Phone Protest

An item I translated for Prague Watchdog:

Chechen youth protest against quality of local mobile network

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – A large protest rally by young people took place in the centre of Grozny today. The participants demanded that Megafon, the only mobile carrier operating in Chechnya, should improve the quality of its service to subscribers.

"At the beginning of April it was announced that the tariffs for the use of the Megafon mobile phone network in our republic would be lowered and brought into line with those in the territory of the Southern Federal District. The tariffs have now been reduced, but the quality of the connection is still the same as before, i.e., terrible. It has even got worse. It can take up to half an hour to get through to one’s friends and family, the audibility is very poor at times, and the connection is frequently interrupted. This can only cause dissatisfaction," said one of the rally participants, 23-year-old Timur Bekbulatov, a student of the Grozny Pedagogical Institute.

"These problems have existed for a long time, practically ever since mobile phone communications were established in our republic, but no one has resolved them so far. Thanks to Ramzan Kadyrov’s efforts, the tariffs have been lowered somewhat, but even so they are higher than in other regions of Russia," he says. "So we’ve come here in order to demand a reduction in tariffs to the federal level, and a serious improvement in the quality of connections.”

In an interview on local television channels broadcast on the evening of April 10, the head of the Moscow-backed Chechen government Ramzan Kadyrov addressed the republic’s young people with a call to show civic courage and demand that Megafon improve the quality of its service to subscribers. "I have done everything within my power", the premier said. "You must also demand an improvement in the service."

In the first half of March this year, Ramzan Kadyrov demanded that Megafon’s subsidiary, Mobikom-Kavkaz, reduce the tariffs for the use of its network in Chechnya in two weeks. Otherwise the premier promised to stop the company’s operations in Chechnya. Since April 4, Megafon’s tariffs have been lowered three times. However, the quality of the connection has considerably deteriorated.

The Megafon mobile phone network has been operating in the territory of the Chechen Republic since February 2003. The signal has been transmitted (and still is) by Mobikom-Kavkaz and coverage within the republic is implemented with the aid of its regional subsidiary "Chechenskaya sotovaya svyaz".

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