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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cost of International Phone Calls to Rise 50%

International telephone rates are set to jump about 50 percent next week, for the first time making it more expensive to call the United States from Moscow at peak hours than to dial in the opposite direction.

On Nov. 15, the cost per minute of calling the Americas and Australia during peak hours from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. will rise to 8,100 rubles ($2.61) from 5,400, a spokeswoman for Moscow Intercity and International Telephone said Wednesday. The company, which relays all calls abroad from Moscow, is increasing rates to offset growing costs, she said.

Callers dialing from the United States pay $2.25 for the first minute and $2.12 per minute thereafter during peak hours from 5 A.M. to 6 P.M. Moscow time, an AT&T operator said. Sprint, another U.S. long distance company, offers round-the-clock rates to Russia from as low as $1.37.

Callers to Europe will also find that at times it is better to receive calls than make them.

Calls from Moscow will cost 3,450 rubles per minute during peak hours, 2,300 rubles the rest of the time on weekdays and 1,725 rubles on weekends.

The cheapest rate for a call from France to Moscow is about 53 cents a minute, slightly cheaper than the Russian weekend rate. The standard rate from the Netherlands is $1, lower than Russia's peak rate.

Just two years ago, most international calls from Russia were a bargain at pennies a minute, although it was often difficult or impossible to obtain an international line. A series of increases, including a dramatic 250 percent rise in June, have brought rates within range of Western prices -- and in some cases bumped them higher.

Service is improving, but it often lags behind Western standards. It can still take several tries to get an open international line, calls are often cut off and shaky connections hamper the use of high-tech equipment such as faxes and modems.

Nigel Leech of Comstar, a communications company that runs a satellite telephone network in Moscow, said rising telephone rates would drive more and more international callers into the arms of private networks as the gap in prices closes.

"With the price hikes they've incurred, they should be able to demand better services," he said.

Alexander Bachmanov, top spokesman for the Communications Ministry, which is working with telephone companies nationwide to improve long distance services, said the new rates might make some callers turn to the competition or ask their friends and colleagues to call them from abroad rather than dialing from Moscow.

But he said rates nearing Western levels were justified by planned improvements. AT&T recently signed a $200 million contract to overhaul, expand and digitalize the Moscow telephone network, and other joint projects with foreign investors will add 50,000 long distance lines nationwide by 1996. he said.

Lidiya Suvorova, the telephone company spokeswoman, said the increases were necessary to offset rising energy and maintenance costs, but she acknowledged that the company feared losing the business of ordinary Muscovites.

"If it's not in the family budget, people are just going to stop calling," she said.

Off-peak calls to the United States will cost 5,400 rubles ($1.74) per minute, not much less than the AT&T off-peak rate of $1.81 per minute from the United States. Weekend calls will still be a bargain at 4,050 rubles per minute.

Peak calls to Asia will cost 6,750 rubles per minute, regular calls 4,500 and weekend calls 3,375.

Calling Africa will be the most expensive at 9,750 rubles per minute at peak hours, 6,500 off peak and 4,875 on weekends.

The latest hike further narrows the gap between the per-minute costs of private and state networks, said Leech of Comstar, which will lower its prices Dec. 15 to $1.72 per minute to England and $2.99 per minute to the United States.

He said Comstar is increasingly attracting private households, not just businesses, willing to pay the $1,025 start-up cost of tapping into its satellite network.