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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1,100 Cell Clients Gripe to Luzhkov


Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov

City Hall is set to unveil a 190-page book of 1,100 complaints from Muscovites unhappy with the quality of their mobile phone service.

After Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov last month lashed out at cellular companies for the dismal state of their networks, providers scrambled to bolster their services.

Vimpelcom and Megafon announced they would do more to interconnect their networks with the Moscow City Telephone Network, with Rostelecom and with each another's systems. In a nod to Luzhkov, Vimpelcom outfitted City Hall with its own base station.

The companies said these measures were sufficient, as they had fully met state communications requirements.

City Hall, however, found the operators' solutions lacking and set up a hotline for consumers to call to register their dissatisfaction.

The hotline was inundated with calls from April 2 through April 16. Operators noted callers' geographic location in the city as well as the provider to which the caller was subscribed. This information was compiled in the 190-page tome that the city plans to hand to regulatory bodies and consumer rights' groups, though no date has been given.

About half the callers complained of poor coverage. The majority of complaints -- 44 percent -- were leveled against Vimpelcom, while Megafon and MTS recorded some 25 percent each.

MTS has ties to City Hall through AFK Sistema, a holding company that controls more than half of MTS's shares.

Coverage is an important, and sensitive, issue for mobile operators, because their licensing agreements require that their networks cover 95 percent of their licensed territory by their fifth year of operation.

How much territory they should cover in the fourth year is unregulated.

"The problem is that 'coverage' is a very broad term. It is very hard to say with accuracy exactly what percentage of the Moscow region an operator 'covers,'" said Anton Pogrebinsky, a telecoms analyst with ACM-Consulting.

The list of complaints also includes some curious gripes.

"No roaming," said one Beeline subscriber, most likely having forgotten to sign up for the appropriate tariff plan.

"My screen goes off," said another.

"Database stolen -- what now?" wondered one MTS client.

The operators themselves dismissed the hotline complaints as an unrepresentative sample.

"There is very little data. We have more calls from subscribers in a single day," Vimpelcom vice president Sergei Avdeyev said.

At the end last month, the capital's GSM operators claimed the following subscriber bases: Vimpelcom had 3.85 million subscribers, MTS had 3.39 million and Megafon had 382,300.

Dmitry Yanin, the chairman of Moscow's confederation of consumer associations, was hard pressed to define his attitude to the City Hall initiative.

"The problem of mobile communications quality has been brought to the political level and we don't know as yet what stands behind this," he said.

"We first want to check the assessment and whether these complaints can be interpreted as a violation of the law on protection of consumers' rights," he said. As for the survey's legal value, he said it had none: "Without technical expertise there will be nothing to submit to a court."

Sergei Grigoryenko, the head of the Communications Ministry's IT department, announced that his department would consider the information contained in the survey but would not initiate additional checks for particular operators.