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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Phone Charges Meet Mixed Reviews

Moscow fixed-line operator MGTS is bracing for an avalanche of consumer complaints this summer when it starts charging for calls from land lines to cell phones.

The "calling party pays" system, customary in Europe, will go into effect on July 1, according to a government decree signed last week. That means Russians, used to calling mobiles from their home phones for free, will suddenly have to pay.

"We expect a larger burden will be placed on our customer service staff," MGTS spokesman Anatoly Vereshchagin said. The company has more than 4 million clients, many of whom are likely to be confused by the arrival of new charges.

Consumer rights activists are enraged by the new rate plan, especially since mobile operators are unlikely to immediately stop charging clients for incoming calls.

Phone operators counter that the change will bring Russia in line with common practice in Europe. "There is no reason for the new charges," said Pyotr Shelishch, head of Russia's Union of Consumers.

The consumer advocacy group plans to file a complaint with the General Prosecutor's Office in the near future, Shelishch said, because the decree violates an individual's legally anchored right to choose between per-minute and fixed charges for local telephone service.

Deputy IT and Communications Minister Boris Antonyuk on Wednesday defended the measure, saying it will lead to a more equitable distribution of revenues in the telecommunications industry, Interfax reported.

Currently, mobile operators pay fixed-line operators for calls made from cellphones to landlines – but there are no charges in the reverse direction, said Pavel Nefyodov, spokesman for No.1 mobile company Mobile TeleSystems.

The Federal Tariffs Service will determine the size of the new charges, which may range 50 kopeks to 20 kopeks per minute, Antonyuk told Ekho Moskvy Wednesday, RIA- Novosti reported.

"If implemented properly, this will make the industry's revenue distribution more fair," said Yulia Ostroukhova, spokeswoman for No. 2 mobile provider VimpelCom.

While many mobile operators offer free incoming calls under some calling plans, market watchers agreed they are unlikely to stop charging all of the country's subscribers for incoming calls by the summer.

Antonyuk told reporters that his ministry cannot require operators to stop charging all subscribers for incoming calls, Interfax reported.

VimpelCom may eventually cancel all charges for incoming calls, Ostroukhova said, but "we will need at least two months to recalculate our tariffs."