Gov’t Fee Plans Frighten Phone Companies

Cambodia’s mobile phone op­er­ators are watching—some with anger and others with trepidation—as government policy changes and new proposals come forward that would slash the cost of connection fees paid to the operators.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications had been paying the operators $0.07 per minute on each call made from a land line owned by the ministry to a mobile phone. The ministry quit paying that charge on July 1 after the Ministry of Finance told the MPTC to stop making those payments.

In addition, MPTC is reviewing another Finance Ministry proposal under which the fee mobile operators collect on calls to their system from another mobile system be reduced from $0.07 per minute to $0.01 per minute. The government receives no revenue on mobile-to-mobile calls.

The government would leave unchanged the current regulations on calls from mobile phones to land lines owned by the ministry. The government receives $0.05 per minute for those calls.

Phone executives say the changes could wipe out their profits.

“This latest proposal from the Ministry of Economy and Fi­nance is unacceptable, discriminatory and clearly fails to recognize the realities of investment by…operators,” David Spriggs, general manager of MobiTel, wrote earlier this month to So Khun, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

“MobiTel is currently considering a further investment of $20 million. However, the board will be forced to reconsider and probably halt any further investment in the light of these proposals,” Spriggs wrote.

One Finance Ministry official confirmed the new proposals had been sent to the Telecom­mu­nications Ministry, but referred specific questions to Kong Vibol, secretary of state for the Ministry of Finance.

Kong Vibol could not be reached for comment Monday, and other Finance and MPTC officials declined comment. But a Ministry of Finance proposal is being reviewed by the Telecom­mu­nications Ministry, which will have a meeting on the subject today, said Koy Kim Sea, undersecretary of state for MPTC.

At issue is a Finance Ministry claim that the government is owed more than $8 million by mobile and fixed line operators who have failed to pay connection charges, taxes and royalties.

In May, Kong Vibol said Mobi­Tel owed the government $1.9 million and Samart owed $897,000. MobiTel claimed the figures were high. Samart said they would pay at the end of the year.

“This seems to be driven by issues of revenue collection,” Spriggs said Mon­day, suggesting the real revenue issue is that the government is having problems collecting what is owed from customers of its fixed lines.

Other mobile phone company executives do not want the proposals debated, considered or implemented.

Somchai Lertwiset-Theerakul, CEO of Samart, said he was frustrated by “management by mood” in which regulations were not always followed and explanations not always given.

“We have to come up with a reasonable solution,” Somchai said. He said if the new proposals are accepted by the Telecom­munications Ministry, companies will “definitely” lose money.

“Everybody,” he said. “Not just me.”

Trairat Kaewkerd, general manager of Shinawatra, said he had not heard of the latest proposal to slash interconnection fees. He did say he had sent a letter outlining concerns he had with the ministry not paying interconnection fees at all.

“A lack of policy [and] lack of a master plan” have exaggerated problems within the ministry, said Sam Rainsy Party member Son Chhay, who is head of the National Assembly committee on telecommunications.

Son Chhay said he supported a Ministry of Finance intervention into another ministry where “decision making is driven by personal interest [and not] the interest of the country.”

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