ICT SECTOR LOBBYING FOR LOWER INTERNATIONAL BANDWIDTH PRICES

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"We are fighting for the industry", is Ganesh Ramalingum’s explanation of what ICT industry association Act is doing. Act is the Mauritian association of alternative telco players, including ISPs and call centres, and currently boasts about ten members. "We invite all players to our meetings, whether they are members or not", stresses Act Board Member Ramalingum, who is also managing director of Data Communications Ltd. (DCL).

"This is a newly liberated market, so we can not expect everything to be well set in the beginning, although we'd like it that way. The regulator is new as well, he needs experience and is learning on the job." Ramalingum gives some credit to Krishna M. Oolun, who has become executive director of the regulator ICT Authority at the beginning of 2005. Not without adding diplomatically: "It is natural, that we, as operators, see things differently (than the regulator), as we have invested heavily, created jobs and made telecommunications much better for the public. If we have the feeling that the authorities take their time to resolve problems, it is natural that some operators will be frustrated."

The price of international bandwidth gives all Act members a headache. "The only fibre link between Mauritius and the outside world is the SAFE cable and that link is controlled by MT", laments Ramalingum, "The price is excessive and not regulated. A 2 Mbit-Link to Paris costs US$11,800 a month - at (neighbouring island) Reunion you get the same service over the same SAFE-cable for a fifth of that price!" Act criticizes the lack of action by the authorities on this high prices, which also hinders the development of call centres. (Currently, there are some 35 on the island, seven of which have more than 100 agents. Main customer countries are France and the French speaking parts of Canada, though there are also some call centres operating in English.)

Anther problem the Act members see is the "access deficit" charge, which alternative operators have to pay for calls originating on the network of the former monopoly operator Mauritius Telecom (MT). There is an origination fee of MR1 a minute, that goes directly to MT. Plus there is the access deficit charge of MR1.50 a minute, which goes to MT via a Universal Services Fund. "The deficit of the access network has been artificially increased by calculating historical costs", complains Ramalingum, "As a result, we pay fees that are excessive." The retail price is MR0.85 MR for the first minute and MR0.60 for every remaining minute - which prices a 4 minute call at MR0.66 a minute. "Private operators already pay for a line that connects them to MT. So, logically, the interconnection fee should be 0,33 MR minus wholesale profit", says [NAME], "As you can see, MT is protected by the authorities to the detriment of the private operators."

"Another problem we have, is, that the ICT Authority does not recognize MT as having Special Market Power. They say that the law doesn't specify what SMP is", Ramalingum continues, "But it is their job to define that!"

Act's list of complaints is a long one. One other area is in the field of broadband access. The ADSL wholesale price is not regulated and deemed excessive by Act. (Indeed, a wholesale price of MR780 MR for 128 kbit/s seems very high, when the end user tariff is below MR1,000.) Ramalingum's DCL started offering SDSL-lines before MT launched ADSL. Suddenly, MT stopped unbundling lines "to protect their business. We had to remove our equipment as servicing only a few lines (already unbundled) was not profitable", says an disenfranchised Ramalingum, "(When we try to resell MT's ADSL), our customers have to wait longer than (MT's ISP franchise) Telecom plus' customers, who may have their service over night."

Another occasion where the lack of action by the authorities angered Ramalingum is the project of a Mauritius internet exchange. "I have been fighting for an internet exchange for ages. There would even have been a grant from outside of Mauritius for free equipment. But the authorities did not take any decisions." So, what could be free national traffic, still fills the pockets of certain operators, by being routed out and back into the country.