-For Standing Tall In Defense Of Citizens Against GSM Companies
The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has overwhelmingly been lauded by Liberians from all spheres over what they called ‘standing tall in defense of citizens against GSM companies’ over the surcharges from the two mobile network operators.
GSM companies operating in Liberia [Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia] recently added surcharges to voice calls and internet data giving limited time of call and internet usage to consumers.
This angered subscribers with some blaming the regulatory authority [LTA] for reportedly being the masterminds behind the surcharges imposed by the GSM operators in the country.
It can be recalled that before the imposition of the surcharges, consumers paid US$1.00 which lasted for 45 minutes to make call for three days, US$2.00 for 1.2 gigabytes to browse the internet for seven days. But when it was imposed, consumers have to pay US$1.00 for 15 minutes of voice call and US$5.00 for 1.2 gigabytes.
However, after series of warnings from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) to the two GSM companies, they have agreed to roll back fees and packages, something Liberians have expressed joy and commended the LTA for putting the interest of the citizens first.
Late Wednesday October 14, 2020, Orange Liberia wrote “Orange Liberia wishes to inform the public that after lengthy negotiations with the Liberia Telecommunications, Authority (LTA), it has amicably settled differences with the LTA regarding the effectiveness and implementation of Part IV of LTA Order 0016-02-25-2019 along with the surcharges and invoices for the year 2020.”
Orange Liberia also added “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.
Lonestar Cell MTN said “Lonestar Cell MTN is pleased to inform its loyal customers and the public that after discussions with the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, we have agreed to roll back the surcharges implemented on voice and data products on October 8, 2020 with immediate effect. We would like to thank the LTA for working with the GSM operators to find solution that is in the interest of the customers and the people of Liberia.”
Following the pronouncement by the two GSM companies, Liberians were heard jubilating from all angles commending the LTA for what they called ‘remarkable achievements’ in the interests of the Liberian people in the midst of challenging economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various night time radio talkshows were flooded with callers commending the LTA. This continues up to Thursday morning as citizens and other customers couldn’t hold back their joy in expressing happiness. The names LTA, Orange Liberia and Lonestar Cell MTN have been on the lips of Liberians over the surcharges recently imposed by the two companies, but they are now happy that the regulatory authority has resolved the impasse promptly.
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 move by Orange Liberia and its competitor, Lonestar Cell MTN erased the modest mobile call and data rates consumers have been accustomed to overtime.
This landed them in court. The Supreme Court of Liberia ruled that the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) did not usurp the function of the Legislature when it published the imposition of surcharges on each minute of voice call and on each megabyte of internet data.
The surcharge is a government revenue generator from the telecommunications sector which was recently implemented to replace the 5 percent tax.
This represents US$22 million on a turnover of US$93.3 million turnovers, with a big sum of that going to Orange France as management and royalties’ fees to avoid further paying local taxes.
The Civil Law Court ‘B’ at the Temple of Justice denied contentions raised by Orange –Liberia, challenging the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) order 0016-02-25-19 that was intended to establish price floors for on-net voice and data services, a regulatory fee on telecommunications goods and services, and a regulatory surcharge for on-net voice and mobile data services in May this year.
But Orange Liberia took an appeal to the Supreme Court, requesting the Court to reverse the ruling.
The Supreme Court in its ruling adjudged that the word “surcharge” as used in the LTA’s Order published on February 25, 2019 is construed within the context of an imposition of additional fees or charges on data services and on-net voice calls under the authority of the LTA Act of 2007. The Court added that the imposition of the surcharges does not invade Legislature’s authority to levy tax.
“It was not the intent of the Legislature to preclude the appellee from imposing surcharges on data services and on-net voice when it repealed and amended Section 1165 (Mobile Telephone Usage) and 1022(B)(2) of the amended Revenue Code as amended in 2016,” the Supreme Court added.