‘Communication Not a Luxury’


Cellcom Telecommunications Incorporated does not see communication as a luxury, but an essential need in today’s world of globalization, digital inclusion, and therefore for Liberians not to be left behind, it has vowed to provide affordable, and quality products and services to enhance Liberians experience in the sector.

In a press release yesterday, responding to recent claims by the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Lonestar/MTN and Presidential hopeful Benoni Urey that Cellcom’s 3 days free calls is harmful to Liberia, Cellcom’s Chief Executive Officer, Avishai Marziano said, “We look at our promotions and discounts as a way of giving back to the people of Liberia and ensuring that Liberians have a little extra money in their pockets at the end of the day because we are both concerned and find it highly unfortunate that Lonestar/MTN will actively be campaigning to lobby the passage of laws that will prevent GSM companies from offering cost saving programs that are benefiting Liberians.”

Marziano said Mr. Urey’s statements “are carefully calculated attempts to prolong Lonestar/MTN’s goal of restricting competition and thereby continuing to exploit the Liberian people and therefore it should be the Liberian people and not the owner of Lonestar to speak on whether
Cellcom’s promotions are harmful or not.”

In a recent letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and published in the local media, Lonestar MTN’s board chairman Urey, called on the President to end “various freebies,” i.e. “free calls to the USA; $1 for 3 days or $1 for 5 days.” He further called for an end to discounts and special promotions, claiming that a competition driven market was bad for Liberia and would limit his company’s ability to reinvest.

Urey argued that the continuance of the “freebies” and promotions has caused millions of United States dollars in lost revenue by the government of Liberia and the telecommunications industry as a whole. In his letter he explained that the freebies and promotions, such as what Cellcom is providing, result in reduced quality of services, reduced tax revenue for government as well as reduced revenue for telecommunications operators, who in turn would have to lay off staff commensurate with losses in revenue.

Marziano said Lonestar/MTN’s only goal for writing the Liberian President was an attempt to influence the Liberian government to restrict a free market economy and get rid of innovative promotions and GSM products, which have brought relief to thousands of Liberians.

“The goal of Cellcom is to provide quality and affordable telecommunications services to all,” said Marziano, “but it seems as if the goal of Lonestar/MTN is to hike and fix prices and swindle money from the average Liberian. Our business strategy is market driven, where we depend on competition to survive, not market control.”

Mr. Marziano noted that telecommunications companies and businesses around the world offer discounts and promotions to attract andmaintain customers and attain revenues. These promotions and products, especially across the African continent, are geared at ensuring that instead of spending a large portion of their income on telecommunications services, citizens are able to instead utilize these savings to put food on the table for their families, send their kids to school, invest in small businesses, or deal with urgent pressing problems.

Cellcom’s Corporate Communications Strategist, Dr. Kimmie Weeks, questioned Urey’s motive in advocating for the death of the freebies, suggesting that the Lonestar chairman might want to repeat history. “When Lonestar/MTN was the only company operating in Liberia,” Weeks said, “they made tens of millions of dollars by charging exorbitant prices for phones, SIM Cards, and call tariffs. There was no excuse for Lonestar to have charged the Liberian people US$65 for a simple SIM Card that is today being sold for as low as $1.00; but they did this for a long time and got away with it until Cellcom entered the Liberian market. We cannot afford as a country to revert to those dark days and continue to subject the ordinary Liberian citizens to undue financial hardship for our financial gains.”

The longstanding rivalry between the two companies, it now seems from Urey’s letter to the President, has driven each party to define its argument. For Lonestar Cell MTN, the more money the company makes, the more jobs it creates; the more tax revenue the government earns toward the national budget and development agenda. For Cellcom, the objective is to increase subscriber base with lower prices, essentially putting the savings into the hands of the people. Government would still earn substantial tax revenue, and communication would be available for everyone.

Cellcom’s 3 days free calls program continues to be hailed across the country as the greatest telecommunications relief to the Liberian people. As a result of the program, thousands of average Liberians are now able to afford to communicate with their friends and family on a daily basis.

Weeks stressed that contrary to claims by Lonestar Cell MTN that the program is causing loss of revenue to the sector, Cellcom’s contribution to the national revenue through taxes has increased consistently year to year since the inception of the program.

“What Cellcom has working in its favor is increased revenue by volume of sales. Because more Liberians can afford $1 to purchase a scratch card, there is a significant increase in the numbers of people who are consistently and frequently purchasing $1 scratch cards to utilize the 3 days free calls program, thereby increasing the volume of call minutes and accrued revenue,” he stated.

Cellcom contends that if Urey’s proposal is accepted by the Liberian government, thousands of Liberians will no longer have access to voice and data services because of affordability. The company says that this will essentially plunge Liberia into a communications black hole, which will take years to recover from and drastically affect revenue collection by the government.

What Mr. Urey failed to take into consideration is that immediately as prices go up, there will be drastic reduction in the number of call minutes that will proportionately put a big dent in revenue generation for both his company and the Government of Liberia, he said. “All over the world, the trend now in the telecommunications industry is to lower tariffs and increase volume. The incremental volume of call minutes and data usage thus translates to incremental revenue for the operators and governments,” he concluded.


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