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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Phone Lines, Bigger Bills

Direct dialing abroad has now become a real possibility for many people in Moscow. Just 18 months ago this could only be done at night from some telephones -- and three years ago it was a luxury of the privileged few who had their own international lines. Three brand new international telephone exchanges and a fibre optical cable link between Russia and Denmark have enabled Rostelecom, the state regional and international operator, to increase the number of simultaneous international calls possible from Russia from a few hundred to over 15,000. Everyone who has been in Moscow throughout this period will have experienced the shock of receiving a genuinely large telephone bill for the first time. (Rostelecom must, of course, claw back all the money it spent on telephone exchanges through its tariffs.) After months of queuing at your local Sberbank to pay an apparently pointless bill of a few dollars, you suddenly need to justify to a disapproving cashier that you have generated one of these monstrous booklets. Bear in mind that the longer you delay payment, the less you will pay in dollar terms because of the devaluation of the ruble. But if you wait much beyond the final deadline, your telephone will be cut off. The system is manual here so your bill payment is not instantly registered at the telephone exchange. Therefore, if you pay very late it is worth calling the number on your bill and telling the operator that the bill has been paid. If you are unlucky enough to have your telephone cut off, be prepared for a hefty reconnection fee and a wait of about a month before you have your line again. If you decide to connect a fax machine or a modem to your line, you have to register your machine at the local exchange and pay extra for its use. This is one of those calculated risks. A fax machine is not very easy to track down. Moscow Local Telephone Network has special equipment to track down these machines but it is expensive and cannot possibly be used to catch all offenders. The principle method used by MLTN is to find fax numbers in advertisements which it then checks against its files. If you are caught, probably the worst that could happen is that MLTN will install a device on your local exchange that will make fax transmission impossible. The company would not disconnect your telephone. The problem MLTN has with fax machines is that they can engage a line for hours. In this respect the fax owners should beware. MLTN has begun equipping each local telephone exchange with monitoring equipment able to record how long each line is engaged. On exchanges that already have this equipment, companies are now having to pay 35 rubles per minute for telephone usage of over 15 minutes each day. The days of free city calling for everyone are drawing to a close. The new technology will also be used for billing. Relatively soon, virtually all of us will get city telephone bills. There will be exceptions. MLTN, for example, now spends 1 billion rubles each month to support the privileges it grants to veterans and invalids. But you can be sure there will be no exemptions for foreigners. Not everyone has a telephone line. However, in contrast to the rest of the country, over 90 percent of all Moscow apartments have telephones. If you are unlucky enough to move into a place without one, the average waiting time is about a year. (Unless you live in the suburbs of Mitino, Zhulebino or Yuzhnoe Butovo, where it is said to take over three years.) The rule of thumb tends to be that the further from downtown you live, the more expensive the process becomes and the number of people you need to deal with increases. Be prepared to pay up to $1,500 to one of MLTN's joint ventures to get a phone line hooked up. Robert Farish is the editor of Computer Business Russia, tel: 265-4214.