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Phone calls to Pakistan made costlier

April 16, 2008

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KARACHI, April 15: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has increased Approved Settlement Rate (ASR) by 100 per cent, which would make calling to Pakistan more expensive. The move is believed to address rising demand of the local operators.

However, sources in telecom sector believe the move may also encourage voice trafficking through illegal means to the country, which currently causes more than $50 million losses to the exchequer every year.

“The authority, after due deliberation and hearing the arguments of different stakeholders, has decided to revise the ASR for long distance and international (LDI) operators at $0.10 from $0.5 per minute with effect from May 1, 2008,” said a source quoting a PTA notification.

“The PTA, in fact, has addressed the demand of local operators, who have been pleading for increase in such rates, as it would not affect the local consumers of the facility,” said the source. “But it would naturally increase the cost of calling to Pakistan from outside”.

The experts raised serious concerns over the telecom watchdog’s decision, who termed it contradictory to the measures it had earlier taken to curb the illegal voice trafficking.

The PTA in 2006 cut ASR by 38.61 per cent in an effort to reduce financial incentives in ‘grey telephony’.

“If the ASR is increased it will cause illegal international call rerouting by LDI operators and some illegal operators may also increase rates seeing the opportunity,” said Ansar-ul-Haq, a telecom consultant.

“The increase in ASR will also increase the tele-density gap and the private operators would not launch telecom services in comparatively lower profit-earning rural areas, he added.”

Grey telephony is a term referred to the illegal telecom traffic in which calls from foreign countries are brought in the country as local calls, while using illegal means. This is an offence under Telecom Reorganisation Act, 1996.

The sources privy to the PTA, however, argued the increase in ASR rate was unlikely to damage the revenue, as the authority had already deployed technical solutions to check grey traffic brought into the country through illegal means.

“The main objectives of the technical solution include automated detection of grey traffic for its consequent elimination, and revenue assurance for LDI operators,” said the source.

“After successful deployment, the solution would be able to filter IP traffic of the country for detection of illegal VoIP on data circuits for consequent legal action against the culprits.”

In such situation, he said, the PTA was confident that a large volume of illegal voice traffic always remained under check of the authority and could not damage the legal telecom’s business.