Financial Times

FR petition over SLT tariffs taken up

A fundamental rights case filed against Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) over its controversial tariff structure was postponed to 6 October 2009 as the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Shiranee Tilakawardene, N.G. Amaratunga and K. Sripavan, ordered notice to be given to the respondents this week.

The petitioner, attorney at law Vasudeva Nanayakkara, originally filed in the case in July 2009 with two other petitioners, stating that the Telecommunications Regulatory (TRC) did not comply with the basic requirements of the order made by the Supreme Court in an earlier case in 2007 over the tariffs and that the TRC suppressed vital facts and deliberately provided disinformation.

The order in the 2007 case, filed by the Consumer Association of Lanka (CAL), called for the SLT to implement a 20% to 25% tariff reduction. The respondents in the case include the TRC, its Director General Priyantha Kariyapperuma, TRC Chairman Lalith Weeratunga and the Attorney General.

The petition notes that despite the reduction ordered by the Court in 2007, the tariff proposed by the TRC resulted in an increase of nearly 30% in the overall call charges compared with the pre-November 2007 tariff. It was observed that in 10 of 15 distinct call charge, bands which fall into the off peak bands: i.e. economy and discount bands extensively used by the residential subscribers have encountered an increase in the call charges. The petition further states that if a significant proportion of calls in user bill are those of the off peak bands then the bill may be increased by approximately 30%. This is contrary to the Supreme Court direction that each user should benefit equitably.

The petition states that the TRC's recommendation to curtail the reduction of the tariff from 20% to 25% as ordered by the Supreme Court to 9.03% is misleading and unjust and that SLT’s start up fee of Rs.1.50 (excluding VAT) applied to all the time bands, namely peak, economy and discount, further took away the benefit granted by the Supreme Court. The petition says the start up had never been contemplated by the Supreme Court.

The petitioners are seeking leave to proceed in addition to asking the Court to order the TRC and its Director General to hold a public hearing in terms of Section 9 and 12 of the Telecommunication Act in order to rectify the flaws in the prevailing SLT tariff expeditiously within a defined time.

The petitioners are further asking the Court to appoint a technical committee comprising experts in the field of telecommunication networking to evaluate the technical issues and guide and direct the public hearing.

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