Tajiks campaign to curb mobile phone use

Authorities in the capital of Tajikistan tore down banner advertisements for mobile phone companies Wednesday as part of a campaign to discourage reliance on cell phones in a move that has baffled the Central Asian nation’s major operators.

Efforts to reduce the visibility of mobile phone companies have been accompanied by a blitz of clips on state television warning viewers about the health hazards of using cell phones.

President Emomali Rakhmon in April instructed health officials to target mainly youngsters in the campaign. He also complained that standard mobile phone bills amount to around one-seventh of the average monthly salary of $80 and that much of this revenue was leaving the country.

Rakhmon has previously banned children from taking cellular phones to school, describing them as a distraction and an excessive financial burden.

Tajik cellular phone companies said the decision to limit street advertising for their services has taken them by surprise and that they have received no explanation for the poster removal drive.

“We do not understand what has provoked this decision since companies legally advertise their services to subscribers in accordance with laws on fair competition,” said Gafur Irkayev, head of Tajikistan’s cellular phone operators’ association.

Irkayev said efforts to discourage cell phone use could hurt the development of the mobile telecommunications industry — one of the few flourishing economic sectors in this impoverished ex-Soviet republic.

An estimated 70 percent of Tajikistan’s 7 million citizens own cellular phone handsets. Reliance on the mobile communications technology is particularly acute in a country where much of the Soviet-era landline telephone network is substandard and often not connected to remote mountain localities.

Ten mobile phone companies operate in Tajikistan.

Associated Press