19 November 2012

Liberia: Lonestar Cell Licenses Suspended

The operational license of Lonestar Cell/MTN has been suspended by the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA). LTA is the regulatory body of the country's telecommunications sector. But Lonestar Cell says the suspension will undermine communication in Liberia.

The Board of Commissioners of the LTA reached a decision for the suspension of the two operational licenses of Lonestar Cell/MTN for three (3) days as punitive measure and also a deterrent to other GSM companies in the country.

However, LonestarCell/MTN has indicated that the suspension as prescribed by the LTA presents many challenges even beyond technical.

According to a source at the LTA, the mobile phone giant warned that the decision would have profound impact financially and otherwise on the entity and it is tantamount to closing down the business.

LoneStar Cell/MTN said while the LTA would like to send a strong message to the public and all other operators out there that they mean business, however, the company appeals to the LTA to consider the proposed sanctions as they could have adverse impact on this business, consumer confidence and the economy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, our source said the loss of revenue on outgoing calls locally and internationally should not be underestimated.

"This will have such effect on the ultimate bottom line that it might affect the number of jobs in our employ, let alone the taxes due to the GoL. This loss could be in millions," Lonestar Cell/MTN is quoted as saying.

The company said the decision by LTA would trigger lawsuit against them by international carriers such as BICS. The company indicated that they have other obligations and back-to-back contracts with other operators around the world, adding that the combination of all this undermines the integrity of the telecommunications sector in our country and opens up much larger issues than we can imagine.

The three days suspension, according to the LTA, is expected to commence at 12:01 am on December 3 until December 5, 2012 at 12 midnight.

LTA Board Chairperson Angeline Weeks, at a press conference Friday said the decision resulted from Lonestar Cell/MTN's unilateral implementation of an unauthorized change in the status of its interconnection with Comium, another GSM Company, from May 18 to 21, 2012 despite a directive from LTA to have the interconnection between the two companies restored.

"...And recalcitrance, considering Lonestar Cell/MTN's previous unauthorized shunting of its interconnection link with another operator in 2010..." Madam Weeks said.

The suspension, according to the LTA Board Chairperson, indicates that subscribers of Lonestar Cell/MTN will be able to only receive calls but will not make calls for the duration of the suspension.

In order to minimize the impact of the suspension on subscribers in areas that are exclusively covered by Lonestrar Cell/MTN, customers in such areas will be exempted from the suspension order to make and receive calls.

However, the LTA said the GSM Company will pay 25% of whatever revenues that will be generated from such operation during the period.

The LTA announced in June this year the suspension of the company's licenses for two weeks, but this action was halted due to petition filed by Lonestar Cell/MTN seeking judicial review of the LTA decision. However, the petition was reportedly dropped by the company later.

"As required by the Telecommunications Act of 2007 and the LTA's Licensing Regulations, the Board of Commissioners (BoC) in a letter dated 17 July 2012, informed Lonestar Cell/MTN that the effective date of the proposed suspension would be determined after due consideration of inputs received during stakeholders consultation and that Lonestar Cell/MTN would have 30 days from the date of receipt of the 17 July 2012 letter to prepare and provide to the LTA, comments on the proposed suspension..." Madam Weeks said.

The LTA Board Chairperson said over the ensuring months and before arriving at its final decision, the Board of Commissioners considered several factors, including inputs from Lonestar Cell/MTN, sector operators, public opinions as well as its own research, among others.

Management of Lonestar cell/MTN said it has some of strategic business accounts in Liberia and government organizations whose operations could be affected, including the UNMIL that have special rates to call their loved ones at home, and we must think very hard about those and how they get impacted.

The company added that Liberians call overseas as indicated by the more than 10 million minutes that go out to international routes every month, noting that LTA decision could be traumatic.

"After the suspension period, it will be a huge challenge to restart the network or mobilize to get us to operate at the same efficiency levels. The demand for the Technicians to reach out far out areas will be difficult and even so, compounded by the difficulty to travel into certain areas," the company said.

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