19 November 2012

Liberia: Sources Hint - Lonestar Cell MTN's Suspension Disastrous

A V-SAT installation

Credible sources on Sunday, November 18, 2012 confided in the Independent Authoritative Heritage that authorities of the LonestarCell MTN had made a submission to the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) Board of Commissioners, prior to the LTA Board of Commissioners announcement regarding the suspension of the company's two operational licenses.

The submission, our sources divulged, was in respond in detail to a letter dated November 13, 2012, with the Ref: LTA/ CHR-AEW/0212/'12. On Saturday, November 17, 2012, the LTA through its Chairperson, Madam Angelique Weeks, announced the suspension of two operational licenses of LoneStar Cell MTN.

Madam Weeks, who made the announcement when she addressed a news conference at the Commission's head office in Sinkor, Monrovia, described the suspension of two operational licenses of the company as a punitive measure by the Board of Commissioners (BoC) resulting from LoneStar Cell MTN's "unilateral" implementation of an "unauthorized" change in its status of its interconnection with Comium Liberia from May 18, 2012 to May 21, 2012.

She said the company (LoneStar Cell MTN) failed to timely comply with the LTA's directive to restore fully by 5:00PM, on Monday, May 21, 2012 the interconnection between it (LoneStar Cell MTN) and Comium as it existed prior to its (LoneStar Cell MTN) 18 May "unilateral" implementation of the said unauthorized change. "For purposes of this decision, suspension means that LoneStar Cell MTN customers will be able to receive calls but will not be able to make calls for the duration of the suspension period.

To minimize the impact of this decision on customers in those areas which only LoneStar Cell MTN provides services, said areas will be exempted from the Suspension Order such as customers will be able to receive and make calls. However, LoneStar Cell MTN shall pay 25% of the revenues generated from such operations to the Government of Liberia (GoL)," she stated.

Among other things, Madam Weeks added that the suspension is slated to commence at 12:01 AM on December 3, 2012 and continues for three days until 12 Midnight on December 5, 2012. However, our sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, further divulged that authorities of the LonestarCell MTN, in their submission, pointed out that the suspension by the LTA present many challenges even beyond technical.

"The impact financially and other wise is much greater than we can fathom as it is tantamount to closing the business, shut the network, and in two weeks reopen to pick up the pieces. 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. The impact that this will have on our distributors and airtime agents will be huge as they are not able to sell airtime during that period. And, the ripple effect when they are not an able to service their debts with the banks or with each other could create chaos for us. We have more than 300 sub - distributors that might want to bring stock back and to be refunded. This is disaster in our hands," our sources quoted the submission as stating.

"The impact that this suspension will have on Mobile Money is huge as the regulations of the Central Bank clearly stipulates that the customer should get his or her money at the time they want it. This action could mean the customer funds trapped in their virtual purse. This action will leave us open to be sued by the likes of BICS - our international carrier, as they have other obligations and back - to - back contracts with other operators around the world, 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 LonestarcellMTN have 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.

And, Liberians that call overseas as indicated by the more than 10 million minutes that go out to international routes every month. This 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 into the far out areas will be difficult and even so, compounded by the difficulty to travel into certain areas,"our sources further quoted the submission as stating.

Considering the huge impact of the suspension, our sources added that authorities of the Lonestarcell MNT then appealed: "The LTA objective to effectively regulate the sector is understandable and even the concerns raised by the LTA on how they are perceived by the public about their inability to stamp their authority, is equally a concern for us. And, yes the LTA would like to send a strong message to the public and all other operators out there that they mean business.

There is nothing wrong with that in wanting to regain the confidence of the public. However, LonestarcellMTN appeals to the LTA to consider the proposed sanctions as they could have adverse impact on this business, consumer confidence and the economy."

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