By Robin Dopoe
The Liberian Telecommunication Authority and the two GSM companies have agreed to “roll back the surcharges imposed by telecommunications providers pursuant to Part IV of LTA ORDER: 0016-02-25-19. “
In a press release issued early today, Orange Liberia said that after lengthy negotiation with the LTA, it has amicably settled “its differences with the telecommunication regular regarding the effectiveness and implementation of Part IV of LTA ORDER: 0016-02-25-19 along with the surcharges and invoices for the year 2020.”
The company further said that as the result of the settlement, they are in the process of rolling back of the surcharges pursuant to Part IV of LTA ORDER: 0016-02-25-19.
“The LTA and Orange Liberia have agreed that there will be a rollback of the surcharges recently imposed by telecommunications providers pursuant to Part IV of LTA ORDER: 0016-02-25-19,” the company added.
The LTA and Orange Liberia have in recent days been at loggerheads with the regulator calling the decision by Orange and its competitor, Lonestar Cell MTN, to impose the surcharges (“additional costs”) on voice calls and mobile data, as “illegal and arbitrary.”
In defense of it position, the LTA in a statement said it was taken aback by the “illegal and arbitrary increase in the costs of voice and data bundles by both Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia under the pretense of complying with the surcharge order.
According to the LTA, under relevant provisions of its of 2007, no ‘Term Services” can be increased without their approval. However, the latter could not let the LTA’s accusation slide without firing back — accusing the regulator of lying when their action was in fact to impose surcharges or price on voice calls and mobile data came as a result of an order from the regulator after a court battle.
“It should be noted that it is Sections 4.1., 4.2, and 4.3 of the LTA ORDER, not the MNOs, which imposed the surcharges. These sections of the LTA ORDER specifically mandate MNO’s to impose surcharges on all on-net calls in the amount of $0.008 and to impose surcharges on each MB of data at a rate of $0.00065,” Orange Liberia said in a press release last week. “Instead of the LTA agreeing to meet on how to roll out this scheme of the LTA ORDER, the LTA sent Orange Liberia invoices in the amount of approximately US$16.5 million for the period, March 2020 through August 2020 to be paid by October 21, 2020, or Orange Liberia’s license be suspended and taken to court.”
The truce, according to Orange Liberia begin effective immediately, as they have coming to one understand with the regulator to suspend the implementation of the LTA order that impose the surcharges pending an orderly roll back under the directives of the regulators.
“Effective immediately, Orange Liberia in consultation with the LTA shall suspend the implementation of Part IV of LTA Order: 0016-02-25-19, pending an orderly roll back of the surcharge under LTA directives and supervision,” the company said. “Orange Liberia extends its thanks and appreciation to the public for remaining calm and patient while the LTA and Orange resolve their differences regarding the surcharges imposed by Part IV of LTA ORDER: 0016-02-25-19.”
“We would like to thank the Liberia Telecommunications Authority for working with the GSM operators to find a solution that is in the interest of our customers and the people of Liberia,” Lonestar Cell MTN said in a statement. “We would also like to thank our customers for their patience throughout this period.
“As part of the rollback of the surcharge adjustments,” Lonestar said, “all customers who purchased bundles between October 8, 2020 and October 14, 2020 will receive the difference in minutes and data between the allocation they received when they bought the bundles compared to the allocation in place before the surcharge was implemented.
“Lonestar Cell MTN understands that these are tough economic times but through it all we remain committed to always doing our best to provide our customers with the best value for all their communications needs,” the company said.
It may be recalled that last week, GSM companies operating in Liberia, Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia, added surcharges to voice calls and internet data giving limited time of call and internet usage to consumers. Before the imposition of the surcharges, consumers paid US$1.00 and used 45 minutes to call for three days, and US$2 to obtain 1.2 Gigabytes to browse the internet for seven days. But when it was imposed, consumers have to pay US$1 for 15 minutes of voice call and US$5 for 1.2 Gigabytes.
The surcharge which has been imposed by the GSM companies contained in an LTA order 0016-02-25-19, introducing floor prices on voice and data calls. Sections 4.1., 4.2, and 4.3 of the LTA order mandate the GSM companies to impose surcharges of $0.008 per minute on voice-on-net calls and $0.00065 per MB (or $0.6656 per GB) on data six months after the cancellation of the widely popular “3-day free calls”. Such a move by Orange Liberia and its competitor, Lonestar Cell MTN, has erased the modest mobile call and data rates consumers have been accustomed to overtime.
The imposition of the surcharges is coming at the time campaign for the pending senatorial election is beginning, and with these harsh economic conditions imposed by the LTA on Liberians, it is certain that many people can divert their thoughts from supporting the ruling party toward the opposition.