Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cell Phone Network Problems in Chechnya

Further to Anne Nivat's article about life in Grozny, a Prague Watchdog report (my tr.):
May 16th 2006

Prices of Megafon SIM cards soar in Chechnya

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya – The May holidays were marked by a sharp increase in the price of SIM cards that connect to the mobile phone network in Chechnya. People who want to become subscribers of Megafon, the only mobile carrier operating in the republic, must now pay two or three times the normal price for a connection to the network.

For the past few days, Grozny’s numerous Megafon SIM card sales points have not been serving customers. Office workers speak of a lack of cards.

"There have been no SIM cards on sale in our city for more than a week now," says Kheda, an employee at one Megafon sales point." And no one knows when they’ll be available again. As far as I know, it’s possible to get SIMs at the exchange (an area in Grozny’s central market where private individuals deal in currency and second-hand mobile phones). They say the SIMs there cost about 800 rubles. There’s also a place quite close to us where they sell SIM cards, but their price varies between 1,000 and 1,200 rubles."

According to Kheda, the speculation in SIM cards in the republic began during the period of the May holidays. "At first SIM cards began to cost 500 rubles, then 600. Before May 9 the price went up to 800 rubles, and now it’s already over 1,000. Some buyers think we’re deliberately refusing to sell them SIMs in order to make the price go up, but we just don’t have any," she says.

Until recently a connection to the Megafon mobile phone network in Chechnya cost subscribers 400 rubles, but now new customers have to pay two or three times more. It is true that at the exchange it’s possible to find people who are selling their own SIM cards, and the price of such "used" cards is 500-600 rubles.

"Buying a SIM card second-hand rather than at a sales point presents the customer with a number of problems. First, the phone number will not be registered in their name, and second, it will constantly get calls from the former owner’s friends, and that also costs money," a young person employed as a mobile phone sales clerk in Grozny told PW’s correspondent. "As for the lack of cards in the places where they’re normally sold, I think that’s being done artificially, for one purpose only: to put the prices up.

“Subscribers to "Chechen" Megafon have repeatedly voiced serious complaints about the company’s work in the republic. People complain about the poor connection, and about credits that disappear from their accounts, sometimes involving very large sums. A few months ago the head of the republic’s [Moscow-backed] government, Ramzan Kadyrov, intervened in the dispute between residents and Megafon, promising to ban the company from operating on Chechen territory if it failed to lower the tariffs on the use of mobile connections for its customers and improve the quality of the connection.

“The tariffs for Chechen customers were in fact reduced a bit; however, the questions about connection quality and credits disappearing from customers’ accounts have remained practically unresolved. Now on top of all this there’s a sharp increase in the price of SIM cards. In the neighbouring North Caucasus republics SIM cards cost 100-150 rubles on average."
See also: Cell Phone Protest
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