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30.11.2005 General News

GT blames NCA for C200bn debt to Areeba

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Accra, Nov. 30, GNA - A highly placed source at Ghana Telecom (GT) on Tuesday told the Ghana News Agency that the National Communication Authority (NCA) was largely to blame for the high indebtedness of GT to Areeba and other cell phone service providers in the country. The source said the NCA had no business fixing the interconnection fee at 750 cedis per minute for all calls, local and international coming from one network and terminating on another, as the NCA did not control rates for international calls.

The expatriate managers, the source suspected, did not want to come out and accuse the NCA of doing a disservice to GT because they did not want their management contract abrogated.

He said for domestic calls coming from GT fixed lines and terminating on Areeba network, for which the caller would have dialled 024 plus seven digits, GT made 1,800 cedis per minute, paid Areeba 750 cedis and kept the remaining 1,050 cedis.

"The issue is not with the calls from the local fixed lines as we are making 1,050 cedis per minute, which is more than what we pay to Areeba. The issue is with international calls," he said.

The source explained that GT negotiated a deal with British Telecom (BT), a giant in the telecom industry, for 2.50 dollars per minute of calls coming from BT network through GT gateway and terminating on any network in Ghana, be it on a WESTEL, Areeba, Buzz or Kasapa.

The source said when government liberalised the telecom industry and allowed Western Telesystems (WESTEL) to come on board, WESTEL went and negotiated directly with BT for a lesser rate and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country, all of whom used GT fixed lines also went and negotiated with BT for even lesser rates than what WESTEL did.

This he said compelled GT to settle for a the resulting highly depreciated rate of 0.083 dollars (763.6 cedis) per minute, which is the current rate for international calls published on the internet by BT. As a result the GNA can confirm that prices of BT international call cards used for calls from UK to especially Ghana, have reduced from between five and six pounds sterling per card to between three and 4.5 pounds sterling because they pay cheaper rates to telecom operators in Ghana.

"Now we are getting only 763.6 cedis per minute for each international call that comes through our gateway and by the dictates of the NCA fixed interconnection fee, we are paying Areeba 750 cedis and we are left with 13 cedis for a minute of international call that passes through our gateway to an 00233-24 number," the source complained. He disclosed that to even worsen the matter, the NCA had hinted that it was going to increase the interconnect fee to 950 cedis per minute and that was going to collapse the national network as GT was now 100 per cent State owned.

The source said meanwhile the ISPs in the country, who had an arrangement with GT for 100 fixed lines also continued to use the GT network to offer Internet services to their customers and paid GT only 200 cedis per minute after collecting 763.6 cedis from BT.

"Another group of organisations feeding on GT network and paying less are the Corporate Networks such as Anglogold Ashanti. Anglogold is on an exclusive satellite network based in Guinea so when a call from a GT line terminates on the Anglogold satellite network, the latter pays 200 cedis per minute to GT and GT pays the international rate of 763.6 cedis per minute to the satellite service provider in Guinea," he said.

The source said, these coupled with the fact that local customers of GT were not paying up their debt, had led the GT to a point of incubating drastic measures to save the national network. The source said GT had approached BT to negotiate a rise in the international calls rate from 0.083 dollars per minute to 0.13 dollars, which came to 1,196 cedis to enable GT to make at least 446 cedis profit after paying 750 cedis to Areeba.

"We are also praying the NCA to either allow for a renegotiation of the interconnect fee or let players determine their own prices according to the dictates of market forces. But if we do not get favourable responses from BT and the NCA, we will begin to block all international calls coming through our gateway to other networks and that will put stress on the entire nation," he said.

He also revealed Areeba had also obtained its own gateway for international calls, but that would not help them much because the GT gateway had a bigger pipe that allowed the flow of more calls at a time than the Areeba pipe could contain at a go.

However, NCA has stated that the current interconnectivity problem that the Ghana Telecom (GT) was supposed to have with other competitors was not the making of anyone.

The Authority said that GT was falling into interconnect-related debts possibly because of lack of appropriate system to collect payments from subscribers and or sold its minutes at rates lower than the agreed charges.

A statement signed by Major John R. K Tandoh (rtd), Director General of the NCA, also mentioned lack of internal fraud detection and management systems to mitigate and or eliminate fraud particularly international call termination as one of the likely reason. "Presently the mutual trust and confidence required to facilitate an amicable resolution between GT and its biggest operator/competitor is at its lowest ebb," the NCA said.

It said the onus of initiating a rate review/setting process was in the domain of the operators as guaranteed by the NCA's regulations, adding that, the Authority only intervened where there were disagreements.

"It is only when the negotiation breaks down that the NCA intervenes to ensure that the public interest and the market order are respectively protected and maintained," the NCA noted.

However, the Authority explained that all operator tariffs had been incorporated in the interconnect charges and that operators as a result of the tariffs had sufficient financial coverage to meet their interconnect charges obligation to one another. It said interconnect charges are constructed on the basis of service cost delivery and negotiations.

The NCA said following its intervention in July this year, an accord was reached on new rates for interconnect rate but indicated that the effective date of October 15, 2005 had been postponed to January 1, 2006