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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mobitel-Beeline case goes to next stage as PM warns telcos

Mobitel-Beeline case goes to next stage as PM warns telcos

091028_07
A mobile phone user in Phnom Penh walks past vendors with branded Mobitel and Beeline facades this month. The two companies have been in a legal dispute since early August.

Deputy prosecutor says all evidence has been submitted and remains under review, while Hun Sen warns call-blocking could result in revoked licences

LEGAL experts have begun evaluating evidence in Mobitel’s legal action against mobile competitor Beeline, a deputy prosecutor said Tuesday, taking the case to the next stage as Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a warning to the sector on call-blocking and price-dumping.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun said that no date had yet been set for the case filed in early August alleging price-dumping and illegal use of Mobitel’s prefixes, but that both sides had introduced their lawyers to the court.

The court had appointed experts to evaluate evidence submitted by the rival parties, he added. “When the experts have uncovered the facts, the hearing will follow.”

This is the first update the court has given on the case since it was first reported in September.

In a government order dated October 21 and published in local newspapers, the prime minister warned that operators risked their licences’ being suspended or revoked if found guilty of blocking cross-network calls as the dispute continued to defy resolution.

The order did not identify any companies by name, but Russian-owned Beeline has long accused Mobitel of blocking calls from its network.

Mobitel, which operates the Cellcard brand, has denied the charge, saying that it had stalled working on an interconnection interface in retaliation for what it has labelled predatory pricing by the new entrant.

Other operators have also levelled the allegation against the firm, lodging complaints with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which had not ruled definitively on the issue. Mobitel launched court proceedings against Beeline, which is owned by Vimpelcom, in August.

Beeline’s commercial director, Benoit Janin, refused to comment Tuesday on the court case or on whether it still had interconnectivity issues with Mobitel. However, he said Hun Sen’s order to operators to cease blocking calls across networks left little room for interpretation.

“I think it’s quite clear" that the practice would no longer be tolerated, he said.

Beeline General Director Gael Campan was in Russia and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mobitel Chief Operating Officer Kay Lot declined to comment Tuesday on the issue.

Hun Sen’s order is the third major government intervention in the last month concerning pricing and interconnection issues in the sector. It follows an inter-ministerial circular on measures to prevent unfair competition in the telecommunications sector signed by Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon and Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun on September 29 that warned operators to desist from any activities that destabilised the sector.

The document singled out below-cost calls across networks and free calling offers within networks, saying the practice undermined stability in the sector and robbed the government of tax revenues.

The telecoms ministry also issued a prakas, or edict, on interconnectivity on October 5, setting out a framework for the technical process that allows calls to be made across networks.

The ministry is also now working on a second prakas that is expected to set a minimum tariff for calls in the sector, based on costs submitted by mobile operators.

Ministry Secretary of State Sarak Khan said Tuesday that operators have been ordered to submit details of their operating costs and profits by next Friday after only four out of the nine submitted the requested information at a meeting last Friday.

These were Hello, Mobitel, Mfone and qb, according to a manager who attended the meeting. Sarak Khan said only “one or two” had still not complied with the request, though he declined to name them.

Ministry Director General Mao Chakrya told the Post earlier this month that any minimum price tariff would need to be set in agreement with the operators, in accordance with the government’s free market approach to the sector.

However, Hello Chief Executive Officer Simon Perkins said Tuesday that last Friday’s meeting had made it clear that the ministry was preparing to set minimum tariffs independently, which he said Hello supported.

“We’ve said quite publicly that we are not happy with calls below cost. We think that is predatory pricing and an unfair business practice,” he said.

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