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Mobitel denies blocking phone calls

Mobitel denies blocking phone calls

MOBITEL, Cambodia's largest mobile phone operator, is blocking calls from other operators,

creating congestion in the network in order to drive competitors' customers to Mobitel,

government officials and industry sources say.

Mobitel denies the allegations.

Critics note the daily congestion in the network is particularly prevalent when calling

to and from Mobitel's 012 network and other networks. Calls within Mobitel, and between

the 016 and 011 networks, connect with substantially less difficulty.

They charge that Mobitel restricts the number of competitors' calls able to get through

to 012.

Koy Kim Sea, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications,

said: "We suspect that the 012 operator may restrict calls from other networks.

But the MPTC is yet to verify this."

Several sources with links to the telecommunications industry have made similar allegations

to the Post but have declined to go on record.

Industry statistics show that Mobitel holds a majority of customers, with 252,000

subscribers. The 011 Camshin (previously Shinawatra) network has 138,000 and 016

Samart has 96,000 subscribers.

It is alleged that with Mobitel's majority market share, if 016 and 011 customers

are consistently blocked from calling 012, they may be encouraged to change to the

012 network so that they can get through. "It's anti-competitive and illegal,"

said one source who did not want to be named.

Mobitel director David Spriggs denied the accusations, and said the congestion was

due to the inability of the government's transmission link to connect calls between

networks.

Calls made between networks are connected by an exchange at the Ministry of Post

and Telecommunications (MPTC), which directs them to the destination network.

Kim Sea admitted that the MPTC link was not up to the capacity required, but said

it was not the only cause of the congestion.

Congestion can also be caused by the inability of any of the mobile networks to handle

the amount of calls, but all three companies claim they have enough network capacity

for existing demand.

Both Samart and Shinawatra declined to comment directly on accusations of Mobitel

blocking the network, but Somchai Lertwisettheerakul, Chief Executive Officer of

Samart Cambodia, said: "This is not good to the operator who is doing the dirty

game... let us enjoy fair competition. I fight in terms of marketing, not in terms

of dirty business games."

Samart has laid a complaint to the MPTC claiming some operators are making misleading

announcements.

Somchai pointed to the announcement: 'Sorry, the number you are dialling is outside

the coverage area.'

"This one, I have to say, is a dirty announcement. It misleads the customer,"

he said.

Samart's letter to the Minister of Post and Telecommunications So Khun, dated January

28, stated: "We at Casacom do not have such announcements. They must be fabricated

by the other operator. This matter is indeed a grave violation of the law... This

is certainly very serious issue. It is an attempt to discredit Casacom and make its

subscribers churn [sic] to other networks." [Casacom is the parent name for

a group of companies including Samart].

Somchai said the announcements should acknowledge if there is a network problem and

distinguish this from whether the phone is switched off or has no coverage.

MPTC's Kim Sea said the announcements were provided by the operators, but acknowledged

it was the responsibility of the MPTC to check and monitor the accuracy of the messages.

He said the problem was exacerbated by Mobitel blocking the network. "I know

that it is because of [Mobitel's] rejection of the traffic, not because the person

is outside the coverage area."

Son Chhay, former chairman of the National Assembly's Telecommunications Committee,

said corruption and anti-competitive tactics had long plagued the mobile phone industry.

"Let's make it simple: there's corruption involved which does not allow the

kind of competition for others to succeed."

He had heard reports of Mobitel blocking the network. "We received a complaint

from Samart and Shinawatra company. We have raised this issue with the company but

it seems high officials in the ministry seem to work to protect the interests of

Mobitel."

The MPTC and Mobitel were accused of conflict of interest in 2001, when the Post

reported that Mobitel was paying the minister, So Khun, $2,500 each month to be an

"honorary adviser" to the company.

David Spriggs, director-general of Mobitel, denied Mobitel had made payments to So

Khun.

"I've been here three years and there have never been any payments."

But the Post was handed a cassette recording in which So Khun admitted in March 2002

that he received payments from Mobitel for "advice given".

"I'm an adviser to the Mobitel company. I get $2,500 per month. I didn't hide

[the fact]," he said on the tape.

Son Chhay said: "The reality is we believe that the payments continue ... one

way or the other the company continues the corrupt practices."

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