Liberia: GSM Users to Get Reimbursement in Calls, Data, As Lta Frowns On Arbitrary, Illegal Increment

Monrovia — Mobile subscribers are to get reimbursements in voice and data calls as a result of the "illegal and arbitrary increase" in the cost of service by both Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

It can be recalled that recently both Orange Liberia and Lonestar MTN circulated messages to their customers informing them of "additional cost" (surcharge) in the amount of US$0.008 for each minute of on-net voice and US$0.00065 for each megabyte of data, citing the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) Order; 0016-02-25 as a reliance.

Speaking over the weekend on the State Radio in Paynesville, the acting Chairperson of LTA, Edwina Zackpah, disclosed that reimbursement is one of the things the telecommunication regulatory body has jotted down and will be one of the things that we will probably be requested of the MNOs.

"So after this broadcast, the Boards of Commissioners will convene and we will come up with the next step and I am pretty sure that reimbursement may be included," Zackpah emphasized.

The LTA acting boss frowned on the unilateral decision by MNOs to implement increment without the consent of the regulatory body.

"One of the key things here is the fact that they implemented the increment without the LTA seeing the figures, because the LTA would never approve these numbers and they know it" she said.

Zackpah explained that the flow price surcharge order was implemented in September of 2019, on grounds that the sector was taking a nose dive because of the lack of quality service being provided to the public.

She added that there are three components of the order that include flow price, regulatory fees and surcharge intended to stabilize the market and provide quality service to the clients.

According to Zackpah, prior to the implementation of the LTA Order 0016-02-25, which prohibits MNOs from selling below their cost, was greeted with applause from MNOs that subsequently saw increment in their revenue and also improvement in the quality of service being provided by them.

She stated that prior to the flow charge being ordered, there was a nose dive in the sector; leaving the sector simply dying.

Zackpah maintained that every year the revenue stream from the sector was diminishing, citing that "this sector is supposed to be one of the leading revenue generating sectors in the world of communication, but in Liberia it was dying and dying."

The LTA official added that as an institution shouldering the responsibility of maintaining stability and viability of the sector, the LTA stepped in after full consultation with the MNOs.

"The flow price, surcharge order was developed and well received by MNOs and in there the flow price explains that you can't sell below a certain price," Zackpah explained.

She recalled back in the days when SIM card was sold for US$65.00, simply because of monopoly, adding that it is unfortunate to hear that telephone companies are in the best interest of the people which is not the case when in fact MNOs always want to maximize profit at the expense of the people.

The top LTA officials said the country was returning to those days had it not been for the expertise of the regulatory body to swiftly step in one of the telephone companies case when it was going to die because they never had the deep pocket to give discount for a prolonged period of time like its competitor.

"There was a telephone company that came in and started to offer products which subsequently saw a decrease in the sector and when we saw that we stepped in and everybody agreed that it was in the best interest of the sector and the people at large," Zackpah recalled.

She added: "Today, all of the GSM companies are actually thankful and happy for the first portion of the flow price, surcharge order which is the flow price. It stabilized the market, it stabilized the revenue streams and they are happy for the revenue increase from September to now, which saw them earn a lot of revenue."

She stressed that "it was very clear that one telephone company was going to survive and the other won't be able to survive" adding: "like in the case of two other telephone companies that phased out Libercell and COMIUM."

"If you have deep pocket, which simply means you have a lot of money to discount for a very long time, while the other company can't sustain that; doesn't have the deep pocket and income to give big discount to the point of loss for months and years you will die and there will be one telephone company again, which we don't want," Madam Zackpah narrated.

However, the LTA has therefore mandated Mobile Operators in the country to rescind the illegal price increase being imposed or face appropriate punitive measures.

"The MNOs are hereby given12 hours to rescind this illegal price increase or face appropriate punitive measures," the LTA said in a release issued in Monrovia on Thursday.

The entity said it regards the act by Mobile Operators as " illegal price fixing, collusion, and antitrust conspiracy," informing the public that under relevant provisions of the Liberia Telecommunication Act of 2007, no 'Term of Service' can be increased without approval of the LTA.

It noted that LTA order 0016-02-25-19 resulted in the introduction of the Floor Price on Voice and Data, under which the MNOs eliminated the "Three-Days Free Call" package and a windfall of over US$104 million in extra revenue.

According to the LTA, the ensuing Term of Service, which is being applied by the MNOs, is far in excess of what is required for implementation of any order and is designed for profiteering and political purposes.

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