Monrovia – The LonestarCell/MTN ‘three-day free call’ controversy is deepening with the GSM Company invoking the intervention of the Supreme Court of Liberia, calling on the nation’s highest court to prohibit the House of Representatives’ order on them to restore the three-day unlimited call promotion in full scale.
The GSM giant in a Petition for a Writ of Prohibition against the House of Representatives explained that contrary to the House belief that it had abolished the ‘Da Your Own’ promotion which is popularly known as three days ‘free’ call, it as a matter of business decision decided to retain the promotion, but simply changed the component of the program from unlimited minutes for three days to 20 minutes for three days.
The 14-count petition contended the House of Representatives was usurping and exercising the function of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), an agency of the Executive Branch of Government by demanding it to restore the unlimited minutes three days call promo.
In September 2016, during a hearing at the Legislature, the deputy Chief Executive Officer of the company was asked if the imposition of US$0.01 per minute tax on domestic voice calls would be passed on to the customers, he responded in the negative at the time, but stressed that the promotion which started April 2015 was temporary and not cast in stone.
“Petitioner says the economic situation of the country has since changed.
Notwithstanding, Petitioner has neither abolished its Promotional Program nor passed the added tax on to its subscribers.
On the contrary, Petitioner has simply changed the component of its Promotional Program from unlimited minutes to limited minutes,” the petition asserted.
According to the GSM Company, the general tariffs set the LTA remains unchanged and was in full effect, adding that it has not deviated from the general tariff and continued to abide by every policy, regulation and decision of the LTA.
“Petitioner says Respondent’s mandate to Petitioner to restore the unlimited component of its Promotional Program violates the free market system to which Liberia subscribes.
Furthermore, Respondent’s mandate is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Separation of Powers Doctrine, as the regulation of the Telecommunication Industry, by law, is reserved to the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, an agency of the Executive Branch of Liberia,” the petition added.
Meanwhile, the LTA upon review of its own act and LonestarCell/MTN license upon the mandate of the House agreed that the GSM Company provided misleading information in the context of section 48 (6) of the Telecommunications Act, because “what Lonestar Communications Corporation claimed during the December 2016 hearing is different from its actions after the imposition of the tax”.
The LTA opined that the company’s failure to provide adequate information to its customers prior to making changes to its promotional packages resulted in customers being charged for services they did not order.
However, the LTA also informed the House of Representatives that it is highly likely that service providers will not continue to offer unlimited free minutes calling to its customers while having to pay the 1 cent per minute excise tax.
In its recommendation to raise the awareness of the general public and allow service providers adequate time to adjust their billing systems, the LTA recommended that a transition period of three months from February 1 to April 31, 2017.
During the three months transition period the LTA and the Liberia Revenue Authority will conduct public awareness campaign that will include town hall-type public meetings in various counties, as well as radio and newspaper announcements.
The LTA also recommended that as contemplated by Section 48 (1) of the Act, all service providers shall give their subscribers adequate notice and information on the terms and conditions of their promotions, to afford subscribers the opportunity to make informed decisions about the telecommunications services they are ordering.
Also, to compensate subscribers for the inadequate prior notice and information about changes to its promotions, the LTA recommended that at a minimum, LonestarCell/MTN be required to provide each subscriber US$5 credit to be used for on-net calls after the transition period.
“By implementing this compensation after transition period, the Government would benefit from collection of the 1 cent excise tax which is calculated to amount to approximately US$433,291 based on 2015 data collected by LTA and assuming an on-net charge of 15 cents per minute. To illustrate: $5 = 33.33 minutes x $0.01/minute = $0.33 x 1,299,875 customers = US$433,291.