Mobile network operators are prepared to stand their ground and not connect to the monitoring system installed by KelniGVG, even as the deadline given them by government elapses today.
The Communication Minister, Ursula Owusu Erkuful, issued a June 11 ultimatum to the telcos last month to grant KelniGVG access to their billing systems so as to allow for real-time monitoring of traffic as well as revenues so government can track taxes the telcos should pay.
The telcos have resisted the move, citing the intrusiveness of KelniGVG’s infrastructure – and they appear unfazed by the threat of sanctions.
A statement issued by the Ghana Telecoms Chamber, last week, said as an industry which has been closely monitored by tax authorities and the regulator, the telcos are not averse to monitoring except that the KelniGVG arrangement does not conform to standards.
The Common Monitoring Platform that is being operated by KelniGVG was established by the Communication Service Tax (CST) Amendment Act, 2013 (Act 864) – a law preceded by the Electronic Communication Amendment Act, 2009 (Act 786) which authorised the monitoring of international incoming calls.
According to the telcos, this legal framework not only establishes the basis for monitoring activities but also prescribes certain design and connection standards for the monitoring system.
“As a law-abiding industry, we only seek that the monitoring conducted through the common platform should be done according to the very law that empowers the NCA and GRA to monitor us.
“Our informed position is that the current architecture from the NCA and KelniGVG does not conform to those design standards. The architecture does not provide our customers the privacy of their communication that the constitution guarantees them.
“We are of the firm belief that continued collaboration between our technical teams and that of the NCA can resolve the difficulties which currently exist. Indeed, as an industry we have submitted alternative designs for consideration to the NCA and MoC in good faith for consideration,” the telcos argued.
The Minister of Communications earlier this month told a news conference that the operator of the common monitoring platform is not interested in listening-in on customers’ private conversations, but in ensuring revenue figures declared by Telcos are accurate to aid tax collection.
But the telcos argue that the law establishing the Common Monitoring Platform does not speak about intentions of the operator but their capability.
“The monitoring mechanism has the capability to actively or passively record, monitor, or tap into the content of any incoming or outgoing electronic communications traffic, such as voice
“The proposed connection point will risk exposing the content of voice traffic. The voice transaction damp for the revenue assurance tool should be enough without risking individual customer privacy. We are minded that the law does not talk about intent but capability, which the current architecture processes,” the statement from the telecoms chamber added.
Talks between the industry and the NCA have stalled, with the regulator waiting to exercise its right to punish the mobile network operators for their seeming recalcitrance – while they also wait to possibly head for court to fight off any possible sanctions.
The Communication Service Tax (CST) Amendment Act, 2013 (Act 864), stipulates that a service provider that refuses to provide access to its network for government or its appointed agents, in this case KelniGVG, commits an offence and is liable to pay a penalty of five percent of annual gross revenue of the last audited financial statement of the service provider after the first thirty days; and if the situation persists after ninety days, the regulator may revoke the operating licence of that service provider .
The showdown is likely to end up in the law courts, as neither the telcos nor the regulator is ready to back down from their demands.