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|‘Eddoes Soup Business’: Cellular Giant, LonestarCell-LTA Saga Hits Boiling Point,||| Print ||
|Written by Wade C.L. Williams, email@example.com|
|Thursday, 22 November 2012 00:53|
Monrovia - The threat by the Board of Commissioners of the Liberia Telecommunications authority (LTA) to suspend the license of Liberia’s cellular giant Lonestar Cell MTN has hit boiling point, with the LTA holding series of discussions on the matter on local radio stations this week.
As if in a public relations competition on who is most listened to, the LTA’s commissioners and Lonestar Cell-MTN’s head of Corporate communication, former Minister of Information Lawrence Bropleh were heard simultaneously on local morning talk shows spelling out their response to a saga that has left many in the public confused.
During a Press stakeout held at the headquarters of the cellular giant which is set to face a three day suspension from December 3 through 5, 2012, Dr. Bropleh described the method by which the company is expected to partially shut down as ‘eddoes Soup business’.
“That’s the same thing about this eddoe soup business here. You know when you say I must carry Uncle Sam and eddoe soup, when I carry it in my mouth and the thing boiling..,” he said.
Whatever this means, the cellular giant has revealed that the LTA BoC does not have the technical know-how to execute its penalty on the company, but is instead relying on Lonestarcell-MTN to pull the plug during the suspension.
“You know they said that we must shut ourselves down, but they told us how we must do it. Now we know our network, it is like I know my tongue; I know what it can take and so we said to them, hey this is what you say we should do but we don’t have the ability to do it as you say it. And these are the reasons,” Bropleh told reporters Wednesday.
Genesis of the crisis
The stalemate between lonestarCell-MTN and the LTA began as a result of Interconnection disagreement between Comium and Lonestar early this year.
The Cellular giant partly Liberian owned and part of the MTN South Africa chain disrupted interconnectivity with Comium, accusing it of being indebted in the amount of US$451,209.41for a period in excess of a year.
Lonestar maintains that prior to disconnecting Comium in May 2012, the company consistent with the Telecommunications Act of 2007, complained to the LTA to look into the dispute between it and Comium.
It stressed that the dispute growing out of Comium’s deliberate and unjustifiable failure and refusal to liquidate its indebtedness to Lonestar, the company was forced to ‘indirectly subsidize Comium’s operation’ with the knowledge and consent of the LTA.
Gauging public opinion
The LTA) finding a way out to punish Lonestar on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 organized a Public Consultation forum of Telecommunications Consumers and Civil Society organizations across the country at the Monrovia City Hall as a means of gauging public reaction to its pending action against Lonestar Cell-MTN.
The LTA’s decision then a proposal to suspend the operating licenses of Lonestar Cell/MTN by for what the regulator calls the company’s unilateral disconnection of Comium subscribers a few months earlier, and Lonestar’s subsequent disregard of LTA’s order to the company to timely re-establish connection with Comium.
The LTA stressed that it determined that Lonestar -MTN’s decision to suspend Comium was unilateral and in complete contravention of the Telecom Act of 2007.
“Additionally, Lonestar non-compliance with the subsequent instruction of the LTA to reconnect with Comium within a specific timeframe demonstrated a complete disregard of and disrespect for LTA’s statutory regulatory powers and a violation of a cardinal licensing term and condition under which Lonestar was granted its licenses,” stated the telecommunications regulator.
A deterrent measure
The LTA justifies that suspending Lonestar will serve as deterrence to any telecommunications company that may want to act contrary to the laws of the land, at least from reactions it got during its public consultations. But the LTA did not disregard the fact that other participants during the hearing called for assessment of the “risks of suspension”; that is, the impact it could have.
One person while expressing satisfaction over the convening of the public forum on the matter, called for a “delicate balance between respect of our laws and protection of the public interest.”
Press Union of Liberia (PUL), President Peter Quayuay called on the LTA to consider the economic impact of any such decision, and the need to look at various options—all geared toward lessening the impact the decision may have on subscribers and the public at large.
But LTA Chairman Angelique Weeks is confident that as far as she was concerned, the LTA’s action to suspend lonestar-MTN’s license will not affect consumers that much and so the LTA decision should be carried out against the cellular giant which boasts of having one million subscribers.
According the LTA, the Telecom Act of 2007 gives it three options when a service provider breaches the law. These options, according to Commissioner of Public and Consumer Affairs, Lamini Waritay, include the imposition of fines, suspension and what he calls the ‘nuclear option’; that is, revocation of license.
But Lonestar maintains that the LTA did not take its complaints against Comium seriously from the inception.
The company stressed that when a dispute between service providers is referred to the LTA, the LTA is obliged by law to either assign a staff or expert to mediate the dispute; refer the dispute to court for appropriate adjudication; or issue an order to resolve the dispute.
It stressed that for more than a year after Lonestar referred the dispute of Comium’s indebtedness to the LTA, the LTA did nothing by deliberately having failed and refused to take either of the steps provided by law for the resolution of disputes between Service Providers.
LTA violating the law
As the debate on the suspension of the license of lonstar Cell-MTN by the LTA heightens and the cellular giant taking the matter to court as the deadline approaches the main issue remains how will this suspension hold, with this new revelation by Lonestar that the LTA is looking up to it to shut itself down.
Many Lonestar subscribers are wondering whether the LTA is bent on suspending the company’s license because of the now resolved Lonestar-Comium saga or does the regulator have something more to explain to the public.
LTA announces long awaited decision
The LTA on Thursday, November 15, 2012, informed the Management of Lonestar-MTN as a punitive measure resulting from Lonestar Cell/MTN unilateral implementation of an unauthorized change in the status of its interconnection with Comium Liberia from 18 May 2012 to 21 May 2012.
The telecom regulator said the company’s failure to timely comply with the LTA’s directive to restore fully by 5:00 PM, Monday, 21 May 2012, the interconnection between Lonestarcell and Comium Liberia as it existed prior to Lonestarcell MTN’s 18 May 2012 unilateral implementation of the said unauthorized change; and its ‘recalcitrance considering Lonestarcell MTN’s previous unauthorized shutting down of its interconnection link with another operator in 2010’.
“For purposes of this Decision, “suspension” means that Lonestar Cell/MTN customers will be able to receive calls but will not be able to make calls for the duration of the suspension period,” states the LTA BoC.
It stressed that to minimize the impact of this decision on customers in those areas in which only Lonestar Cell/MTN provides service, said areas will be exempted from the Suspension order such that those customers will be allowed to receive and make calls. However, Lonestar Cell/MTN shall pay 25% of the revenues generated from such operations to the Government of Liberia.
Lonestar fires back
But Lonestar maintains that the Telecommunication Act of 2007 and Lonestar’s Standardized License expressly provides that any order or exercise of authority by the LTA that gives rise to a dispute that is not resolved may be submitted for arbitration under the Arbitration rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (the UNCITRAL Rules).
“Accordingly, this morning Lonestar served the LTA with a Notice of Arbitration under the UNCITRAL Rules demanding arbitration, by a panel of three (3) arbitrators, of the LTA’s decision regarding suspension of Lonestar’s licenses,” Dr. Bropleh told Journalists Wednesday.
Continued Bropleh: “It is noteworthy that under the prevailing law, no penalty for non-compliance shall be imposed while the circumstances or related decisions of the LTA are the subject of arbitration proceedings; meaning that all proceedings or actions in connection with the LTA’s suspension of Lonestar’s operating license will be stayed pending a final determination of the arbitration proceedings.”
The cellular giant maintains that it cannot shut down one aspect of its operations while another is up and running.
“I either block you one way, or open it two ways and if I block you one way I’m not going to block the whole country one way. I can’t do pick and choose. This we explained to the LTA and we also asked the LTA, ‘you are welcome to bring your engineers, to bring your experts,” said Nathaniel Kelvin an official of Lonestar. As the saga plays out and the deadline draws near, many are waiting to see the big decision hold.
The suspension is slated to commence at 12:01 am on 3 December and continue for three days until 12 Midnight on 5 December 2012.
A major factor that influenced the BoC’s decision to reduce the duration of the suspension from fifteen to three days is Section 20(5) of the Telecommunications Act of 2007, which states that where a license is suspended, revoked or not renewed, the LTA shall take into account continuity of service to customers and include in its order such terms and conditions as it deems appropriate, states the regulator