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Turkmenistan: Return of Russian Mobile Operator Ends State Monopoly

In early May, Turkmen netizens were excited to learn that following a verbal agreement with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the popular Russian mobile phone operator MTS will soon resume its work in Turkmenistan, after an unexplained closure by the government in 2010.

MTS entered the Turkmen market in 2005 after it acquired the controlling stake in an American company which was the leading mobile phone operator in the country. The Russian company soon became the largest and most successful operator in Turkmenistan, boasting an 85-percent share of the mobile service market in the country and serving 2.4 million mobile users by 2010 [ru].

In contrast, the Turkmen government-owned mobile phone operator Altyn Asyr had only about 500,000 customers by early 2011. MTS's services were very popular in the country because the company provided its customers with mobile web connection, including social media that were banned by the state-run internet provider. In effect, MTS's web connection served for many Turkmens as their ‘window to the world’.

Cell phone by Johnathan Lyman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cell phone by Johnathan Lyman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

However, Turkmenistan's Ministry of Communications revoked MTS's operating license in December 2010, without giving any reasons. The ensuing suspension of service affected roughly half of the country's population of about five million. Most people had little other option but to switch to Altyn Asyr. The state-controlled company soon had to deal with massive service disruptions because its infrastructure was not ready for the massive inflow of ex-MTS customers.

It is not surprising then that the news of MTS resuming operations in Turkmenistan has been greeted warmly by netizens.

Under a news report on Asgabat.net about MTS’ return to the country, Dom-kuhnya commented [ru]:

Ураааааааа! Поздравляю! Будет конкуренция – будет нормальная связь!

Hooray! Congratulations! Competition [among providers] will mean adequate connection.

Another reader, Anastasiya, added [ru]:

Супер новость, еще бы они вернули нам наши старые номера.

Wonderful news! It would be even better if they gave us our old numbers back.

Krutoy was less inspired by the news, writing [ru] ironically:

Вау, воры возвращаются!

Wow! The thieves are returning!

To which Vladimir replied [ru]:

Какая разница воруют они или нет[?] вы думаете Алтын асыр не ворует[?] да все и везде воруют. Да и не знаю остались ещё честные люди.

Why does it actually matter whether they steal or not. Do you think that Altyn Asyr doesn't steal?! Everyone steals! I doubt that there are any honest people left at all.

Leyla, a student that studies abroad concluded [ru]:

Наконец я смогу поговорить с родственниками.В Туркмении,что сотовая связь,что АТС г…о.

Finally I will have a chance to talk to my parents. In Turkmenistan, both the current mobile service and landline phone service suck.

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