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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Phone Charges May Hit the Poorest

Over 28 million land-line telephone users will be required to switch over to a new pay-per-minute billing system from Thursday, ending years of Soviet-style, mainly symbolic flat-rate tariffs.

The outline of the new system is contained in a law on telephone tariffs passed in October 2005 that will allow telephone operators to charge a fixed subscriber fee irrespective of the number of calls made.

Subscribers around the country will be able to choose from one of three options. The first option will allow callers to pay for local calls using the per-minute billing tariff. A second option is for subscribers to pay a fixed monthly fee of up to 400 rubles ($15) for unlimited calls. Under the third system, customers can pay in advance for a fixed number of minutes per month. Anything that exceeds the purchased amount is charged for separately at a per-minute rate.

Subscribers will now be required to sign supplementary agreements that will enable them to choose one of the three options with telephone operators around the country.

In the event of a customer failing to choose a tariff, the default option of a fixed monthly fee for unlimited local calls can be imposed automatically. All incoming calls will continue to remain free of charge, as will calls to the emergency services.

"This scheme will benefit the telephone companies, who are monopolists in their various spheres and make life unbearable for our pensioners, whose only comfort is regular conversation with close friends and family," Alexei Samokhvalov, an official from the Initiative Group consumer association, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Telecoms companies, however, have played down the effect that the tariffs could have.

"This is just election-time posturing," said Oleg Mikhailov, director of communications at Svyazinvest.

"The new system of tariffs will give subscribers the opportunity to manage their expenses more efficiently."