PTA yet to cut overseas call rates: LDI officials
Amir Riaz & Jawwad Rizvi
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s decision to withdraw International Clearing House (ICH) charges on calls from abroad has not been implemented as the old call rates still apply, said an official at an LDI operator on Wednesday.
The government has decided to withdraw the ICH charges as the international call traffic has registered a decline of almost 30 percent in just one month. Talking on condition of anonymity, the CEO of a leading LDI operator said that international traffic has fallen to approximately one billion minutes per month from the previous level of 1.6 billion minutes per month. “This traffic is presently being routed through grey channels but will come back to the legal pathways once monitoring equipment is installed in the ICH,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Lahore High Court (LHC) turned down PTA’s plea to dismiss a petition challenging the imposition of additional tax on incoming international telephone calls. PTA’s counsel told the court that since the federal government had decided to withdraw the tax, the petition was no longer valid. However, the lawyer for the petitioner said that the tax was still being collected and, as a result, overseas Pakistanis were paying four times extra charges on calls made to Pakistan. Accordingly, the PTA has now been asked to furnish the court with a copy of the notification withdrawing the said tax at the next hearing. Further, the court has also extended the stay order on the recovery of tax till December 13.
A private company, Brain Telecommunication, had filed the petition arguing that the additional tax on the incoming international calls was a violation of the rules prescribed in the Competition Commission Act prohibiting price fixing and the division of market through quotas. The petition maintained that the CCP had objected to the levy but that the PTA ignored its reservations. The petitioner asked the court to declare the impugned tax unlawful and restrain the PTA from collecting the same.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the PTA spokesperson said: “It is in line with the policy clarification by the ministry of information technology, asking LDI operators to suspend interconnect circuits, as the matter is sub judice in the court.” While many interpreted the statement as a de facto notification, others insist a bigger game is under way. “The PTA tried to trick the LHC by issuing the notification regarding suspension of ICH charges on international calls but is continuing to collect the same,” said sources within the telecom industry.
According to these sources, LDI operators are happy about the implementation of the ICH regime as they stand to make easy money every month in accordance with their pre-decided quota. However, they say, the huge difference between old and new rates — the new rate is 8.8 cents per minute as compared to the earlier 1.25 cent per minute — has widened the space for grey traffic.