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Mobile call prices could fall

The Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) is considering lowering minimum mobile phone costs in the country to ward off price wars that could send operators into bankruptcy, a senior official said.

Lay Mariveau, first member of the TRC, told the Post in a recent interview that the TRC invited the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency specialising in the industry, to study the Kingdom’s telecom markets and mobile phone call prices earlier this year.

He said the ITU suggested that the lowest price at which operators can compete with each other is 2.5 cents or 2.6 cents, around two cents lower than the prices spelled out in an inter-ministerial prakas – or government order – signed in 2009 to tackle long-standing disputes over price-dumping.

According to the 2009 prakas, the minimum cost for customers within a network is set at 4.5 cents per minute, while the minimum for cross-network calls is 5.95 cents.

The TRC plans to hold a meeting with the eight telecom operators after the July 28 national elections to discuss minimum prices, Mariveau said, adding that the move could prevent telecommunications providers from being crushed under the weight of stiff competition.

“We [want to] protect the investors of the eight companies from collapsing,” he said, blaming the costly, complicated, and ongoing Mfone bankruptcy case on the same competitive practices.

“We don’t intervene [in] the price, we let all mobile companies to compete with each other, but we ask them to respect fair competition,” he said.

The ITU declined to comment yesterday, and representatives from providers Smart, Beeline and Cellcard did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails from the Post.

Experts say an oversupply of providers has contributed to price dumping, but that the crowded market may shrink.

In an interview in April, Cellcard CEO Ian Watson said that over the next 18 months, the market will consolidate, leaving only three or four players. “I think we’ll be there; I think Viettel will be there; I think Smart will be there. And maybe a smaller niche player.”

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