Liberia: House of Representatives' Telecommunications Committee's Chairman Urges GSM Companies to Drop Extra Charges On Data, Voice Services

Capitol Hill — The Chairman of the House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Post and Telecommunications, Rep. Isaac B. Roland (District #3, Maryland County) has called on LoneStar Cell-MTN and Orange Liberia to adhere by the mandate of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) by dropping all extra charges placed on voice and data bundles in recent days.

In a move to implement the LTA mandate of surcharge on voice calls and data bundles, the two Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) increased the charges amid customers' complaints.

The LTA, serving as the regulatory arm, termed the act as illegal price fixing, collusion, and antitrust conspiracy, and gave the companies a 12-hour ultimatum to rescind the "illegal price increase or face appropriate punitive measures."

But Orange Liberia issued a statement indicating that the LTA is putting them in a position that would make it almost impossible for them to operate in Liberia.

While the stalemate continues, customers of both networks continue to bear the brunt as prices remain astronomically high - voice calls for US$1 scratch card has dropped from 45 minutes to 15 minutes, while data bundles for US$2 only give 600 megabytes instead of 1,200 megabytes.

Amid the LTA-MNOs impasse, Rep. Roland wants the GSM companies to implement the LTA's order before creating room for a possible dialogue.

"As head of oversight of the telecom sector and people's deputy, we are seriously taken aback on this unprecedented increase in the cost of services (voice or data bundles),' he slammed.

He said, with the current economic situation, the new hike in voice data charges will deprive the average Liberians, especially those in the rural parts of the country and the student populace access to communication and using the internet to enhance their online studies.

"We want to call on both MNOs (Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia) to return to status quo ante. We support LTA's press statement of October 8, 2020, in which, the sector regulator frowned on the unilateral decision by MNOs to implement increment without the consent of the regulatory body and regarded the recent hike as illegal price fixing, collusion, and antitrust conspiracy," he said.

Speaking further, he said the current price of "US$1 for 15 minutes voice calls instead of 45 minutes and US$5 for 1.2GB instead of US$2 for 1.2 GB data bundles is far in excess of what is really required, something he said is politically motivated and tantamount to profiteering.

"Considering the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and Liberians, this new term of services is unacceptable and we urge the two MNOs to cooperate with LTA, by returning to status quo ante. A law is a law and it is prudent for us, being it a person or business, to be law-abiding.

He added that in this age, communication is not a necessity but a right, and as such, the rights of Liberians to communication should not be taken away by sky-rocketing charges on voice and data charges.

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