Exclusive licence was taxpayers’ generosity

27/02/2007 14:56

The interim administration is finally taking the bull by its horn by deciding to deregulate the telecommunications industry. However, the ATHL monopolies are not making the decision an easy one with their major compensation claims for the loss of exclusivity rights. With deregulation will come competition, which would lead to possible reductions in international and local communication charges, wider consumer choices, product innovation and increased number of consumers using the communications services, be it mobile, Internet or land-based network.

Despite the monopoly masters putting on a brave face to welcome deregulation, they seem to be masked with the fear of losing their exclusivity rights to an open and competitive telecommunications market. They have become comfortable in their carefully divided monopoly right, which for FINTEL is on the international connection, Vodafone on mobile services and Telecom on the national land-based network. The ATHL monopolies have for many years hoodwinked consumers into believing they are getting cheap telecommunication rates. For example, in August 2006 Telecom had reduced its intra-region call rates from 16 cents to 12 cents. More consumers make inter-region calls for businesses and keeping up with friends and family. But no rate reduction was made to the high inter-region rates? Telecom Fiji introduced the new satellite telephones in some islands in Lomaiviti and charge the already struggling villagers the rate of 23 cents per minute. Telecom Fiji then went on to offer consumers with limited choices between having a lower call charge of 46 percent but pay $40 line rental, or 23 percent reduction in call charges and a payment of $11.25 for line rental or choose not to have any change to their line rental or call charges. These are the types of services and limited choices consumers have had to put up with because there is simply no other player in the market. It’s been a leave or take game for consumers. However, for the telecommunications monopolies it is counting their huge profits, like the recently announced $21.3 million, all the way to the bank.

A close look at the telecommunications industry would reveal that the ATHL monopolies have not been generous after all. Instead, it is the tax payers who have been far too generous for too long. The exclusive licence that the Telecom Fiji chairman, Joe Mar continues to refer to was a generous offer by the taxpayers of the country to stabilise the telecommunications industry and allow it to stand on its feet. It is not a guaranteed licence to allow the monopolies to override the consumers interests to accumulate profits at their expense. Consumers in Fiji have already compensated ATHL monopolies by paying exorbitant costs for their goods and services and allowing it to be what it is today – monopoly monsters who have neglected the needs of their generous givers.

If anyone should compensate, it is not the interim government but the ATHL monopolies themselves. Why should taxpayers of this country compensate the telecommunications monopolies for their substandard services, exorbitant and unreasonable charges, poor customer services and dispute resolution processes? They have paid more then their fair share in compensation for waiting patiently for an open and competitive telecommunications market where they can obtain value for their money.