The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has taken disciplinary action against Mobitel, suspending the promotional activities of the company’s Internet service, which was launched without a specialized license.
Lam Pou An, a ministry secretary of state, said the ministry has asked Mobitel to stop advertising for TeleSurf, a wireless broadband network that connects users to the Internet without a telephone hookup or a modem.
The action was taken after the National Assembly’s telecommunications committee earlier this month asked telecommunications Minister So Khun to investigate to see if TeleSurf was violating ministry regulations.
According to the ministry, Internet service providers must obtain a license called the Internet Service Provider license. Mobitel has not been issued one for the TeleSurf operation.
Son Chhay, chairman of the telecommunications committee that questioned So Khun, later pressured the ministry to stop allowing Mobitel to operate TeleSurf without the license.
Mobitel has claimed, however, that licensing is unnecessary because TeleSurf only offers Internet access but not other Web-hosting services such as e-mail. TeleSurf, which promises Internet connections many times faster than those offered through phone lines, was launched March 1.
David Spriggs, Mobitel’s general manager, denied the ministry took disciplinary action against Mobitel, saying it’s a coincidence that TeleSurf’s advertising campaign recently ended.
“We stopped our advertisement just because we finished launching our campaign and got enough customers,” he said.
Another senior ministry official of the ministry, who requested anonymity, said the ministry “asked” Mobitel not to take any more new customers for TeleSurf until a dispute with Telstra, another Internet provider, is resolved.
Telstra’s contract with the ministry guarantees that its BigPond Internet service, along with the state-run CamNet, will be the exclusive private Internet service provider until February 2002. Both services started in 1997.
BigPond is currently sharing an undisclosed percentage of its revenue with the ministry as part of the license fee in exchange for the exclusive rights.
As the regulator, the ministry needs first to amend the contract with Telstra to allow a competitor to provide Internet services. In that case, it is expected that the ministry has to give up some financial privileges guaranteed in the Telstra contract.
The senior official said the ministry is negotiating with Telstra to amend the original contract in order to pave the way for Mobitel’s TeleSurf.
Paul Blanche-Horgan, Telstra’s country manager, refused to comment on the negotiations.
He only repeated that Telstra’s contract guaranteeing BigPond’s exclusive right is still in effect.