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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Telephones Go Dead for Thousands of Companies

Thousands of businesses across Moscow were left floundering this week when Comstar, an alternativefixed-line telephone operator, went dead.

Starting Monday afternoon with sporadic hitches leading to temporary blackouts Tuesday and Wednesday, Comstar's technical difficulties meant some customers could receive few or no calls, while others could not dial out.

Comstar has 7,600 clients and some 44,000 lines, with ownership split between Moscow City Telephone Network, or MGTS, and Metromedia. It is one of a handful of alternative operators that cater mostly to businesses, while Sistema-controlled MGTS offers cheap residential services.

In the absence of telephone connections, businesses had to keep contact with partners and customers through e-mail or mobile phones. Comstar client Vedomosti newspaper said cellphone batteries were dead by mid-Wednesday.

"The bottom line is that their customer service is appalling. They were telling us it would be repaired in an hour, then another hour, then another hour," said Chris Manuel, general manager of Officescape, an interior contractor, by telephone. He said Thursday that the call from The Moscow Times was the only one received in the last few hours.

"Comstar has assured us that by tomorrow everything will be 200 percent OK! That is what they said yesterday!" he said later by e-mail.

Tatyana Kostrova, Comstar's deputy marketing director, said a network switch faltered Tuesday evening, breaking the connection for 425 clients, or around 1,700 lines. She said the accident was caused by a glitch in the software on a switch installed in April.

She said that by Wednesday morning, 250 clients' connections were restored, and by 8 p.m. 400 clients were back to normal. By the end of the work week, the remaining 25 clients, who "use special and added services that began after April" will be hooked back up, Kostrova said.

But Manuel said that his company, a client for four years, has no such new services and was still experiencing major problems Thursday afternoon. He said Comstar's technical director confirmed to him that the network went down Monday, and not Tuesday as Comstar reported.

Kostrova said Comstar is prepared to give compensation, but the exact amount depends on the contract and who is to blame for the glitch. In this week's case, Comstar accepts the blame and expects lawsuits, she said.

Some contracts indicate that in the event of an accident, the connection will be reinstated within two days, and beyond that period only 0.3 percent of the monthly bill will be repaid.

But any monetary compensation is too late for businesses that cannot wait to make telephone calls.

"When networks shut down, it causes so many problems that token reimbursement is nothing," said Anton Pogrebinsky at J'son & Partners consultancy.

He said Comstar is not likely to lose many customers over this week's problems since some operators have exclusive rights to service whole business centers, sometimes drawing up contracts with the construction company.

Officescape's Manuel, whose company advises on which telephone provider to use, said he was not likely to recommend Comstar.