Financial Times

Competitors threaten to stop interconnect to Airtel

By Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera

Some operators have threatened to stop interconnect facilities to Airtel as they have breached the Interconnect agreement by not withdrawing tariffs not approved by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRC), according to TRC sources and some mobile operators.

“Airtel had confirmed to TRC through a mobile text message on Wednesday that they had withdrawn a particular tariff but that has not happened. Also out of the four tariffs that they are expected to withdraw, they only promised to withdraw the five times offer (which is for a Rs 100 re-load, Airtel gives the customer Rs 500),” a senior official of a mobile company told the Sunday Times FT.

When the other operators protested about the unapproved tariffs, Airtel had promised TRC on Monday to withdraw all unapproved tariffs from the market within the next 24 hours, a TRC source said. He said that TRC told them (wrote letters) many times over the past month to withdraw these and finally sent them a warning and on Monday Airtel had informed that they will withdraw the tariff.

He said when these tariffs were sent for sanctioning by Airtel to TRC, the regulator had written to Airtel with the relevant reasons why these cannot be approved. “But they went ahead with it. Then we followed up with many letters requesting them to stop the tariffs as the other operators were also getting agitated,” he explained, adding that the other four players (Tigo, Mobitel, Dialog and Hutch) had threatened to stop interconnect to Airtel if the fifth operator is adamant not to withdraw the said tariffs.

Interconnect is a set of legal rules, technical and operational arrangements between network operators that enable customers on one network to communicate with customers of another network). “However till Thursday they had not withdrawn the tariffs –especially the five times offer. At the Airtel call centre the staff say the company does not promote it anymore, but when a customer goes in for a re-load it is there,” the senior mobile company official said. He said this promotion was still running in Kandy when the operators checked it on Friday morning.

“Most of us wrote to Airtel on Wednesday saying that Airtel is in material breach of the interconnect agreement as we can only allow TRC approved tariffs and not others. We also wrote to TRC demanding corrective action,” he said. This was confirmed by other operators.

The official also said some of the other Airtel tariffs that are not sanctioned by the TRC are the 100 short message service (SMS), 49 cents Airtel to Airtel tariff with a Rs 99 subscription (but Airtel charges only Rs 49 as subscription) and the exclusive agreement with Nokia called the Airtel Handset Bundle Offer. The bundle offer combines free outgoing calls and free SMSs to Airtel and all other networks, in addition to free data usage offers when a customer purchases a Nokia handset.

Asked to respond to these issues, Airtel’s Corporation Communications division said in an email: “All tariff offered by Airtel is duly approved by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka. We wish to emphasise that the customer is always at the forefront of our business, and we will continue to drive affordability and make our services accessible for all Sri Lankans to enjoy.”

Last month Airtel secured one million ‘revenue earning’ customers since its launch on 12, January with its officials announcing at a media launch that this has made Airtel the fastest growing mobile telco in the market presently.

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