The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has granted a third mobile operating licence to government operator Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Libtelco) to provide voice and mobile internet services to the public.
The licensing of the third operator is expected to heighten competition in mobile phone services in a market that has been dominated by two foreign operators, Orange Liberia and Lonestar Cell MTN.
Libtelco has, to date, focused primarily on the distribution of fibre optic internet services. The new licence authorises it to provide voice and mobile internet services.
According to a statement from LTA, Libtelco’s entry into the market will “increase consumers’ choices in determining the network of their convenience.”
The latest development comes at a time when LTA, Orange Liberia and Lonestar Cell MTN have differed over the implementation of the regulator’s surcharges’ regulation (call and data cost adjustments) which led to a sharp increase in voice and data services cost by both operators.
The implementation of the surcharge regulation started on 8 October 2020, soon after Orange Liberia lost its legal battle with the LTA to block the implementation of the surcharge regulation.
Orange Liberia argued that the regulation would have a negative impact on its customers as well as its operation in the country.
After losing the case, both Lonestar Cell MTN and Orange Liberia adjusted the cost of voice calls and data – without the approval of LTA, forcing the regulator to reverse the surcharge and compensate customers who were affected by the increase.
Now there is speculation that the move to license Libtelco is to effectively eliminate competition and ensure the state operator secures dominance as sole operator for the country.
However, Zontawon Titus, the commissioner general of LTA, has denied this and said the decision to grant the third licence was to meet a growing need for services and that the market could accommodate more mobile operators.
With a growing population of five million people, Titus said the two operators “are no longer sufficient enough” to handle the demand for communications.
He was quoted by Liberia News Agency as saying, “As a responsible and predictable regulatory body, we did not issue the licence to Libtelco based on public perceptions. We issue licences when market conditions allows (for) it.”
His comment comes after the chairman of the House of Representative Judicial Committee Fonati Koffa said, “It is in our interest to have our own. Actually having foreign companies controlling our communication network is a dangerous national communication tool.”