Customers of Camintel, a private land-line operator in the provinces, say the company has overcharged them for calls to a BigPond Internet local server.
Customers in Siem Reap say Camintel in January started charging $0.05 per minute for local phone calls made to the BigPond server in the town. Other local calls between land-lines cost $0.02 per minute.
“This is a discriminatory action, abusing their monopoly in Siem Reap,” said a Western businessman who has used BigPond, the Australian-based Telstra’s Internet service, for years.
He said Camintel told him the special rate was imposed because of Camintel’s new business agreement with BigPond, but BigPond officials say there are no special business agreements with Camintel.
“We don’t take any surcharges from any customers,” Paul Blanche-Horgan, country manager of Telstra, said.
A Camintel official said the decision to increase charges was nothing unusual.
“It’s a business decision,” Nop Sothy, the company’s marketing supervisor, said. He refused to comment on the accusation that overcharges had something to do with an agreement with BigPond.
Camintel is a joint-venture between the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the Indonesian-based Indosat, taking over the military-style satellite phone system set up by Untac forces in 1991. It provides land-line phone services in all provinces and some areas in Phnom Penh.
Camintel also provides Internet services in some provinces, using a 64 kilobyte-per-second leased line from the state-run Internet system CamNet, according to the ministry. Under the sub Internet Service Provider license, Camintel pays the ministry $2,500 a month for the leased line and can promote Internet services using the CamNet line.
BigPond is Camintel’s only competitor in the Siem Reap Internet market. Competition intensified after the Australian company set up a local server in Siem Reap in addition to its main server in Phnom Penh.
BigPond and its customers said they should be able to connect to the local server at local charges.
In Phnom Penh, by comparison, the state-run land-line system charges $0.01 per minute for all local calls in Phnom Penh, including calls to Internet servers operated by CamNet and BigPond.
Many Camintel customers contacted said the overcharging began as early as January, though Camintel’s announcement to its customers states the surcharge would start Feb 20.
Customers said Camintel is taking advantage of being the only land-line operator in town.
Jon Morgan, director of Angkor Children’s Hospital, which uses BigPond, said the issue is not just a business dispute, but a matter of life or death.
“If we don’t have a reliable Internet access, children at our hospital might die,” he said. The hospital, he said, desperately needs to be connected to international communications to receive medical consultation from advanced hospitals.
Koy Kim Sea, undersecretary of state for the ministry, said the ministry is aware that Camintel is overcharging BigPond customers in Siem Reap. “The ministry is looking into the matter,” he said. (Additional reporting by Ana Nov and Kay Kimsong)
Customers said Camintel delayed the installation of its land-line system for BigPond customers and neglected customers’ requests to repair the phone line system.
Officials of the ministry said Cambodia lacks regulations in telecommunications to control the sector, in which many operators compete in a small market.
Koy Kim Sea said experts from the World Bank are now reviewing regulations in telecommunications.