3cent/min cut being mulled for int’l calls


ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology (IT) has drafted a working paper to reduce the rate of incoming international calls by 3 cents per minute, or to end the “controversial” International Clearing House (ICH), which has so far caused over $1 billion loss to national exchequer.
Official sources at the Ministry of Information Technology told Daily Times on condition of anonymity that reduction in the per-minute price of the incoming international calls by 3cent per minute was under consideration to curb grey trafficking which continues to afflict country’s telecommunication sector. However, a final decision would be taken after getting the nod of minister for finance who is now a days at abroad.
“Though Influential people with vested interests were using their connections in the corridors of power to keep the present ICH arrangement in place, but the IT ministry was set to take a final decision to curb grey trafficking in the country,” ministry sources said. 
The officials also said that the national kitty has so far suffered heavy $1.3billion loss with setting up of infamous ICH, as rate of per minute of the incoming international calls was jacked up from 3 cent/minute and fixed it at 8.8cent/minute.
Former IT secretary Farooq Awan during the rule of the previous PPP-led coalition government in October 2012 had implemented his novel idea which is now a day being taken as the highly contentious decision as chairman of the PTA. 
The ICH has also caused significant decrease by one billion minute per month in the volume of incoming international calls, they added.
“The IT ministry to control grey trafficking in the country has drafted a working paper and proposed to reduce the per minute rate of incoming international call or give an end to controversial ICH that caused hefty losses to the kitty,” a senior official at IT ministry said on the condition not to be named. 
He also said that cut in the rate of incoming international calls or end to ICH would be made on the basis of the working paper.
Under the ICH, the entire incoming telephonic traffic was put at the disposal of the Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited (PTCL). 
All the 14 long distance and international (LDI) licence-holding operators formed a consortium which through an agreement allowed the PTCL to manage the incoming telephone traffic and, in return, receive their proportionate share in the income.
The sources also told that if the decision to conclude the ICH and restoration of old mechanism would be taken then 14 telecom companies that had PTA’s license would be authorized to control international calls at reduced rates. 
Under the old mechanism, rate of per minute of international incoming call can be decreased from 8.8cent/minute to 4cent/minute. However, a final decision to control grey trafficking and fature of ICH would be taken after the arrival of minister for finance who has flown to Washington DC to hold talks with IMF and would back to country on April 15, they added. 
Grey traffic is defined as use of illegal telephone exchanges for making international calls, bypassing legal routes and exchanges. 
These illegal exchanges include VOIP (voice-over internet protocol) using a computer, GSM (global system for mobile) gateways, WLL (wireless local loop) phones or mobile SIMs. 
This traffic may then be distributed onwards using WLL and mobile numbers. Grey routes are arrangements that fall outside the regular course of business among licensed telecom companies in each country. 
It is to note that the PML-N government has done little to undo the faulty decision that allegedly caused massive boost to grey trafficking in the country with use of illegal telephone exchanges. 
The government has so far kept mum as decision to end the controversial ICH was a tough job and required of political will to take strong action against the people with vested interests while the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) had ruled against the ICH, describing the arrangement as cartelisation.

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