National regulator the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) has issued a mobile network services licence to state-owned PTO Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LIBTELCO), allowing it to offer GSM-based services. Front Page Africa notes a statement from the LTA as saying that ‘Liberians would now have a wider choice in determining the network of their convenience’.
LIBTELCO has been focusing on the deployment of its fibre-optic network to homes, businesses and educational institutions, but will now be able to join incumbent operators Lonestar Cell-MTN and Orange Liberia in the domestic market, offering a range of voice and mobile data services.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in August this year the House of Representatives voted to amend the Telecommunications Act of 2007 to expand the functions of LIBTELCO to become a GSM operator. The report noted that the amendment effectively expanded the telco’s functions and role as a ‘revenue operator, to contribute towards the national budget’. The committee had concluded: ‘The amendment of those provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 2007 as cited herein will enable the Government-owned Corporation ‘LIBTELCO’ to provide world-class telecommunications products and services at cheaper, affordable prices for all Liberians that will enable growth of various sectors, such as education, healthcare, banking, energy and serving the masses, at large, for a sustainable economic growth of our society.’
However, despite some heralding a ‘new dawn of the telecommunications sector’, others note that LIBTELCO’s prospects of making inroads in the domestic mobile market are slim at best. Whilst it is clear the government is making efforts to resuscitate LIBTELCO – largely neglected since its failed privatisation bid back in 2005 – stepping into the mobile market as a direct competitor to Lonestar Cell-MTN and Orange Liberia could be ill-judged. A former executive at the state-owned telco, who asked to remain anonymous, was cited as saying that if it proceeds on this track ‘it would be prudent … to carve out a highly strategic and high-demand niche, where it can cultivate growth and not get slaughtered’.