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General News Tue, 1 Jun 2010

Vodafone raises flags over calls monitoring by foreign company

Accra, June 1, GNA - Vodafone Ghana has cautioned the government against allowing a private foreign company to monitor inbound international calls for revenue, saying the move could compromise national security and the privacy of mobile phone users.

In an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in Accra, Mr Isaac Cudjoe, Head of Corporate Communications, Vodafone Ghana, raised a myriad of issues, which all the telecom operators had been pointing out to the government for the past year but to no avail. Investigations by GNA, for instance, gathered that all the telecom operators, except one, are uncomfortable with the government's decision to employ Haitian-based Global Voices Group (GVG) SA to monitor inbound international calls for revenue.

Even though none of the telecom operators have publicly raised questions about the reputation of GVG, the GNA gathered that their qualms about GVG was partly because they are not sure about that company's credibility and reputation.

Government, however, has publicly announced that in spite of the qualms of the telecom operators, it would go ahead with the GVG contract because it is in the ultimate interest of the public. The GNA recently reported that Minister of Communications, Haruna Iddrisu, said Ghana lost 5.8 million dollars a month to fraudulent termination of inbound international calls.

The Ministry of Communications said it was able to ascertain the actual quantum of the losses through the help of GVG's call verification system, so it was convinced that GVG's involvement would help prevent fraudulent call termination and help government to generate at least 60 million dollars a year from inbound international calls.

Government has, therefore, asked all telecom operators to start charging a fixed rate of 0.19 dollar a minute for all inbound international calls beginning from June 1. The new fixed rate marks a seven cent increase from the former flexible tariff of 0.12 dollar per minute.

Mr Cudjoe, however, argued that if government's intention was to ensure that it received the right revenue from inbound international calls, there was a better way to undertake that without compromising national security and privacy of phone users.

He said government was fully aware of the existence of an automated calls data record (CD), which automatically records all international calls that go through the switches of each telecom operator and government could generate data from that record to monitor inbound calls for revenue instead of bringing on a third party.

Mr Cudjoe said Vodafone, like all the other telecom operators, was willing to comply with government's directive on the matter but still maintained that there was no way to guarantee absolute protection for national security and citizens' privacy when a foreign company was allowed to monitor calls that flowed in and out of the country. "We cannot be sure that the privacy of our subscribers is secured. We have also told government that when it brings in a third party, revenue would be shared and in the process the country loses money," he said. The GNA is reliably informed that out of every 0.19 dollar per minute of an inbound international call, the local operator which terminates a call gets 0.8 dollar, the third party call monitor, GVG, gets 0.6 dollar and government gets 0.5 dollar.

Mr Cudjoe noted that fixing international call tariffs at 0.19 dollar amounts to price control, which defeats the market liberalisation policy that governed the country's telecom market, adding that if an operator could afford to give lower tariffs the fixed tariff regime would prevent it from doing so.

"Moreover, the increase from 0.12 dollar to 0.19 dollar per minute would even worsen the fraudulent call termination problem because the people would resort to call bypass through sim boxes system which is cheaper," he said.

Mr Cudjoe said the increase in tariff would also make the cost of doing business high for people who lived outside Ghana and depended largely on phone calls for their businesses in Ghana.

He said it would also affect the rate of social calls by Ghanaians abroad who wanted to call family members living in Ghana. Meanwhile, as per the industry regulator's directive, all the telecom operators are in the process of registering all their simcards by June 31, 2011, to ensure that persons who use SIM cards for fraudulent call termination could be traced and arrested. This, they believe, would stem the fraudulent call bypass and loss of revenue to government and telecom operators.

An industry expert told GNA that the only way government could guarantee accurate and adequate revenue for the State was to make arrests and dish out harsh and deterrent sentences to such offenders instead of employing the services of a foreign company which industry players were nervous about. He agreed that there was no way subscribers' privacy and national security protection would be guaranteed under this new arrangement. The expert pointed out that GVG would be making almost a million dollars a month from monitoring calls and in the end they would be taking away over 10 million dollars a year which could have gone into national development.

Source: GNA