Celtel Urges Zambia Parliament Action on Gateway Licenses
Pan-African mobile telecommunication company Celtel has petitioned the Zambian Parliament to break the deadlock over international gateway license fees that has been dragging on for more than two years.
Celtel hopes parliamentarians will force the Zambian government to reduce the cost of the licenses, currently pegged at US$12 million, to make the mobile market competitive. The operators claim the current fee is prohibitively high and that it is behind the high cost of communication in the country.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee on communications Monday, Celtel Zambia Managing Director David Venn said lower fees would help Celtel to effect a significant reduction in the cost of both inbound and outbound calls.
The petitioning of lawmakers follows several discussions between mobile operators Celtel and MTN and the government that have been in vain, with the government claiming that giving licenses to private operators would compromise security. The government also says that the incumbent operator, Zamtel, would lose out if private operators are given their own international gateways.
Zamtel provides both fixed and mobile-phone services, has exclusive rights to the Mwembeshi Earth Station and collects revenue from private service operators using the satellite’s facilities, including international gateway.
Venn told the lawmakers that the cost of communication would be cheaper if traffic was channeled through private mobile operators’ own international switches.
"The Zambian government and the Communications Authority of Zambia (CAZ) should come up with a law on the international gateway license to enable private operators," Venn said.
The lawmakers are expected to carry out their own assessment of the international gateway problem and make a recommendation that will be submitted to all parties on what should be done in order to break the deadlock. International gateway licenses allow mobile-service providers to have their own signaling access code, rather than using government-controlled access codes that monitor and record every call made.
Last month, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said Celtel and MTN (mobile telecommunication network) were foreign companies that should first ask their countries of origin whether they had liberalized their international gateways, before requesting other countries to do so.
Celtel is owned by the Mobile Telecommunication Company (MTC) of Kuwait and operates in 15 African countries including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, while MTN is a South African-owned company that has a presence in 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Uganda, Kuwait, Nigeria and Yemen.
After pressure from the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development last year, several African countries promised to liberalize their international gateways and reduce the exorbitant costs of acquiring gateway licenses in order to make the mobile market in the region competitive.
In Uganda, the license cost is $214,000, while in Uganda it is pegged at $50,000.