TELECOMS

GSM Operators are Given an Ultimatum in Liberia

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has given the four GSM cell phone providers until May 7, 2008 to comply with the authority's licensing standardisation process consistent with the telecom laws of 2007.

The GSM service providers include LoneStar, Cellcom, Comium and LiberCell.

LTA Chairman Albert Bropleh told that the ultimatum is in keeping with an earlier letter to the GSM companies that the deadline for the end of the standardisation process for GSM service providers remains at May 7, 2008, notwithstanding their refusal to comply with the licensing and standardisation process being put in place by the LTA.

"This means that come May 7, 2008, all those GSM operators who may have not complied with the LTA's directives in this regard would have indicated by their actions (omissions) that they do not wish to continue to operate in the sector and/or comply with the LTA's regulatory functions and responsibilities," Bropleh indicated.

The LTA Chairman warned operators or heads of the four GSM companies who may desire playing "politics with this very important and vital aspect of the Government of Liberia's (GoL) policy reform and LTA's regulatory responsibilities to desist from such attitude, as the consequences for such unadvisable behaviour may be far reaching".

Mr. Bropleh indicated that in order to continue implementing GoL's sector policy and effectively deal with the deficiencies continuing to undermine the sector reform, Article 84 (1), (2) and (3) of the Telecom Law of 2007 gives the LTA the right to standardise existing licenses and harmonise frequencies that had been given out to the four existing GSM companies to establish a level playing field for all operators, adding "the law left it to the discretion of the LTA to determine the contours of the standardisation process".

In this regard, Bropleh noted that LTA has been having relevant consultations with key stakeholders including LiberCell, Comium, LoneStar and Cellcom, and has issued appropriate sets of regulations to guide particularly the licensing issue consistent with the enabling legislation and industry norms and practices.

"Despite these best efforts on the part of the LTA, it is now becoming clearer, going by their latest response to LTA's licensing instructions, that the four GSM operators are bent on obstructing LTA's activities in this regard and by extension, the GoL's sector reform; thereby attempting to roll back government's reform achievements in this sector thus far," Bropleh added.

The LTA Chairman observed that it was regrettable and of serious concern that the four companies which have for the past several years continued to carry out their activities in the country as they like, with minimum control and reference to international best practices in the sector, have chosen to band together to thwart the LTA, and by extension the GoL's efforts to achieve the strategic goals of GoL's policy in the sector.

He said the GSM operators have insisted contrary to relevant provisions of the Telecom Law, that their licenses obtained during those chaotic times in the life of the telecom industry remain as valid today as they were under the previous industry dispensation and added that this points is clearly stated in their collective response to the LTA's recent request that the operators fill out a licensing-related form for the purposes of obtaining relevant information that could assist the regulator to effect a uniform, harmonised and licensing framework consistent with Article 84 (1), (2), and (3) of the Telecom Law.

"In a letter of notification to the GSM companies and in discussions with the GSM operators recently, the LTA duly informed the four GSM service providers that the standardisation process, which should have been completed since February 2008 will now end on May 7, 2008," Bropleh noted.

He explained that the issuing of the licensing form to the operators is one of the steps toward achieving the standardisation process, to be followed by the licensing agreement which details the terms and conditions of the new licensing framework, including the duration and fees structure of the license to be issued to the operators.

"Thus by insisting that they have a 'valid license' and therefore would not submit to the new licensing process, the four GSM operators are in effect disregarding the Telecom Law, which mandates the standardisation exercise, and the LTA's statutory role to implement the standardisation process, including establishing a harmonised licensing and frequency fees regime for the sector. In other words, this posture on the part of the operators if allowed to continue, will in effect render the LTA irrelevant and GoL's reform program moribund," Bropleh averred.

Bropleh: "Clearly and certainly, neither the LTA nor the GoL is in a position to countenance such a blatant disobedience to authority, and such, a deliberate attempt to undermine regulatory powers given to the LTA by the Telecom Law and rubbish Gol's ongoing sector reform. For to insist on having 'valid license' in circumstances requiring new framework design for the benefit of all, including the service providers themselves, is to ignore relevant parts of the Telecom Law sections 19 (2) and 20 (1) which, among other things, clearly spells out licensing procedures and conditions and changes to licenses and attempt to defeat GoL policy objectives set in the Telecom Law."

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