|GSM providers : register dispute over ‘connection fees’
|The row over the interconnection tariffs between Jordan Telecom Co (JTC) and Fastlink, one of Jordan’s two GSM providers, is expected to continue despite efforts to reach a solution.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) intervened in the affair last week, when it dropped the recent agreement between MobileCom, the Kingdom’s other GSM provider and Jordan Telecom to cut the price of the fixed-to-mobile call by 35 percent to 95 fils per minute.
The TRC President Muna Nijem called the agreement a ‘partial’ one and is currently under the commission’s inquiry, saying the TRC will make up its mind on the legality of the agreement later this month.
‘The commission has the right to check the validity of the agreement and see if it is eligible to consider it legitimate,’ Nijem said in a press conference last week. She maintained the agreement between MobileCom which is owned by the Jordan Telecom Group would affect the other services provided by the two companies. The debate between the two GSM providers and JTC, Jordan’s sole fixed-line provider, forced the TRC to give the three companies an ultimatum until the end of this month to reach a compromise on the interconnection tariffs. The JTC-MobileCom agreement came as a shock to Fastlink, which accused the JTC administrators of favoring one part against the other.
Nijem was clear when she noted the TRC still has not received the justifications for the agreement. “The deal lacks some of the basic points that both parties failed to solve in their agreement,” Nijem said. She explained phone bills need to value the amount of seconds but not the minutes consumed in the inteconnection. Nijem ruled out Fastlink’s allegations that the JTC’s move was an act of monopoly, adding that Fastlink has received the same JTC offer. The row between the three companies is rather old and intensified earlier this year when Fastlink decided to operate a new network by adding the number 5 to its six-digit number to accommodate an expanding customer base.
JTC has frequently asked Fastlink to revise the bilateral agreement on the interconnection fees, something which Fastlink refused to do. Michael Dagher, Fastlink’s CEO, said JTC is pursuing a ‘double-standard’ policy towards the GSM providers in Jordan. The JTC’s CEO Pierre Mattei, however, said his company is concerned about the interests of its customers who need to obtain better services at affordable prices.
The recent agreement between MobileCom and JTC was acclaimed by the public, especially the JTC subscribers who found in the agreement a prospect to cut their phone bills. The agreement was scheduled to take effect on 1 December, but the TRC denial delayed this until further notice. Many economists found in the bilateral agreement a chance to improve competition among the GSM providers in the Kingdom.
They note the agreement doesn’t harm the interests of any part, but rather enhances the marketing of fixed and mobile lines. ‘The agreement mobilizes new scopes in the competition between the GSM providers and the JTC. It inspires more people to subscribe in any of these companies,’ said economist Haider Rashid. ‘The reduction on interconnection tariffs provides a double benefit for the companies and the customers.’ Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Fawaz Al Zu’bi stressed that the interconnection process between the JTC and the two GSM providers remains unclear and faces many problems.
He said the TRC mission aims to adjust the balance between the commercial interests of the phone companies and the people’s interests. “Jordan has made good strides in regulating the interconnection process among the fixed and mobile lines,” he added. “It, however, failed thus far to achieve a 100 percent regulatory system in the field.” Both Nijem and Al Zu’bi agreed that the TRC will not tolerate any partiality or misuse of the GSM services in the Kingdom. Nijem said the commission is working jointly with the concerned parties to reach a preferable solution that serves both subscribers and GSM providers.
Under the current tariff structure, JTC pays Fastlink about JD 1.5 million per month for calls made from JTC landline phones to Fastlink mobiles. A call from JTC to Fastlink cost 145 fils per minute, while a mobile-to-mobile call from MobileCom to Fastlink and vise versa costs 70 fils per minute.
According to Nijem, the TRC will issue its own compromise on interconnection fees if any of the concerned parties failed to do so before the end of this year. Then, Nijem said, the TRC agreement will be binding on all parties.
She expressed her dismay over the lack of mutual understanding and cooperation among the three parties. She said the TRC is still discussing the affair with the companies, despite previous negotiations between the concerned parties have reached a dead end. The two GSM providers attract about 1.2 million subscribers, two-third of whom are subscribed to Fastlink. The fixed-lines which are provided by JTC subscribers are still below the one million level, estimated at 800,000.
Rashid explained that many Jordanians today prefer mobile phones because of their easy and affordable services. Indeed, a healthy competition among the GSM providers will serve the customer better “Thus, the two GSM companies in Jordan need to think progressively for the better of their interests and the public.” Rashid’s remarks come at the time when Al Zu’bi said a third GSM company is expected to enter the market by 2004. He said the ICT Ministry is currently conducting an extensive study on GSM-lines and fixed-line markets in Jordan to explore the points of weakness and strength.
The study, Al Zu’bi added, is in its final phase and the findings will be announced soon. The introduction of the third GSM company in Jordan will certainly impose further pressure on the current two operators to preserve their subscribers and promote new services to expand their customer base.
“A third GSM provider is a fact that we should realize well,’ Al Zu’bi stressed. ‘But we need first to take in account all the data and factors that are available in the Jordanian market before licensing the new company.”