Cost of phone cards cut in half to help low-income Lebanese

Mninister Boutros Harb speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Monday, March 31, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: The Telecommunications Ministry has slashed by up to 50 percent the price of local and international phone calls made through prepaid cards issued by the state-run telecom provider Ogero.

Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb told reporters at a news conference Monday that he would “reduce the price of phone calls made through the prepaid cards Telecarte and Kalam by 50 percent for landline calls and 30 percent for cellular phone calls.”

People using the cards will now pay LL50 instead of LL100 for every minute of call time from a landline and LL100 instead of LL200 from a mobile line.

As for international calls, users will now pay LL300 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and LL200 for the rest of the day.

Prices will be adjusted starting April 1 as per Harb’s policy decision, his first since his appointment last month.

“This will facilitate communications and better serve citizens, particularly low-income individuals such as students, workers, and users of public phone booths and domestic workers,” he said.

Harb said the move would boost the prepaid cards market.

“It will also revitalize the process of selling and purchasing these prepaid cards after a three-year freeze in sales, which affected [government] revenues,” he said, noting that the treasury was losing $110 million annually as a result of the decline in the sales of prepaid cards.

The Telecommunications Ministry is also considering how to cut mobile rates without significantly lowering telecom revenues, which represent a significant percentage of the treasury’s income.

Harb also said he planned to reverse an earlier decision that required the registration of the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, a unique number assigned by manufacturers to every handset, with the customs department.

The decision issued by former Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui required large importers and individuals to register the IMEIs of new mobile phones on the database before they could be used on the touch or Alfa networks.

The decision was aimed at cracking down on smuggled phones, but Harb said large cartels were still capable of evading detection.

“The measure had a negative impact on the telecoms sector and tourism activity while large cartels of smugglers continue to bypass the system,” Harb said.

A telecoms expert who spoke on condition of anonymity had earlier told The Daily Star that several smugglers were illegally feeding the database with the IMEIs of untaxed mobiles before importing them to Lebanon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 01, 2014, on page 5.




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