21 November 2012

Liberia: Tougher Action Awaits Lone Star

--But Service Provider Raises Suspicion

In an apparent show of might, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) says additional punitive actions would be imposed on LoneStar Cell/MTN should there be any violation during the course of their suspension. However, the mobile phone giant says it suspects that the regulator is allegedly fronting for an unknown service provider.

LTA says it would not reverse its decision against the mobile phone giant and would ensure that the company's operation is monitored during the period of the suspension.

Last week, the Board of Commissioners of the LTA reached a decision to suspend the operational license of Lonestar Cell/MTN for three days as punitive measure that would serve as deterrent to other GSM companies in the country.

LTA, the regulatory body of the country's telecommunications sector, said the decision to suspend the operational license of Lonestar Cell/MTN for three days was not unilateral as claimed by LoneStar Cell/MTN.

Addressing a news conference Tuesday to accentuate its decision against LoneStar Cell/MTN, three members of the Board of Commission said the decision against LoneStar Cell/MTN remains unchanged.

The Acting Chairman of the LTA, Commissioner Henry Benson, who is responsible for Engineering and Technology Services, said the institution consulted all stakeholders, including the management of the LoneStar Cell about its decision.

"We took everything into consideration before taking the decision...we had consultations with all stakeholders including those in the counties, and also with management of Lonestar Cell/MTN...and I believe we acted right," Commissioner Benson told Journalists.

The acting LTA Chair said they knew that their decision would have serious ramification intended to serve as a punitive measure.

Commissioner Abdullah Kamara who is responsible for Service Development and Marketing Structure said LoneStar Cell/MTN broke the law and now it wants to use their customers as "human shield" to fight a propaganda war.

He clarified that the decision is not intended to favor one operator over the other, but to ensure that the laws governing the sector are respected.

Ahead of the enforcement of the suspension, there are indications that LoneStar Cell/MTN might take recourse to the law.

However, Commissioner Kamara said it is the right of the mobile phone company to go to court; but said, in the meantime, the regulator will monitor the enforcement of the suspension.

He warned LoneStar Cell subscribers not to make call on December 3 as the suspension would be in action.

Yuan, who is responsible for Government Affairs and National Policy, said LoneStar should not have done what it did by violating the law.

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 last 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, 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.

In a statement issued last week, LoneStarCell/MTN appeals to the LTA to consider the proposed sanctions as they could have adverse impact on this business, consumer confidence and the economy.

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.

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