Burmese SIM Card Provider Challenges Monopolistic State Interests
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Burmese SIM Card Provider Challenges Monopolistic State Interests


By BA KAUNG Thursday, February 2, 2012


A Burmese citizen holds a mobile phone displaying a photo of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: www.nat.org)
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A public war of words has broken out in Burma between a private company and government officials over the company’s plans to sell a phone card at a price as low as 5,000 kyat (US $ 6)—100 times cheaper than those currently on the market.

The conflict started in early January when Shwe Pyi Tagon Co Ltd (SPT), a telephone company in Rangoon, announced that beginning in March it would sell 1 million 3G SIM Cards for only kyat 5,000, pending government approval.

Currently, inside Burma it costs an average of $500 to buy a reliable SIM card. So when news of SPT’s intentions was reported in local journals, it was enthusiastically welcomed by many Burmese people, who have been paying much higher prices for phone cards than people in neighboring Thailand.

This week, however, the Burmese Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs (MPT), which has long monopolized the telecommunication sector in Burma, ran statements in state-run newspapers roundly rejecting the private company's scheme to sell cheap phone cards.

The MPT statement said that it was “absolutely impossible at this time because it takes a considerable amount of time to establish a thorough communications network and the proposal is not in accordance with the existing laws.”

Despite this, SPT issued a statement on Tuesday assuring the public that it has the necessary technology to implement its plan and thus would continue to proceed with efforts to sell a cheap phone card to any Burmese citizens who show their national identity card.

The statement quoted reformist President Thein Sein, who said in a speech last April that government departments must strive to reduce basic expenses for businesses in areas such as telephone lines, electricity and office buildings, as well as transaction costs, because it was eventually public consumers who had to bear the burden of such costs.

SPT also said that the company has informed the MPT of its desire to work as a second mobile network operator in the country, fully relying on its own technology, but to cooperate with the government department regarding its business model.

“We try to provide the cheapest telephone service so that everyone can use a mobile phone,” said Lwin Naing Oo, the managing director of the company in a Tuesday press conference in Rangoon, where the SPT statement was issued.

MPT’s vague citation of “existing laws” may have been an allusion to “security concerns,” which was a predominant factor in decisions by the previous military regime to reject private enterprise proposals, but which has now become a hurdle for entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of government economic reforms.

Cheap phone cards sold by SPT would deal a heavy blow not only to the MPT’s business interests, but also to other mobile phone operators controlled by cronies close to ex-army generals currently serving in Burma’s quasi-civilian government.

MPT and Htoo Trading Co Ltd, a conglomerate owned by US-sanctioned Burmese tycoon Tay Za, are currently selling prepaid phone cards that cost $20-50 dollars.

Early last year, Central Marketing and Elite, both subsidiaries of Htoo Trading Company, entered into a joint venture with the MPT to sell handsets and one-use phone cards.

As a result, allegations have surfaced that MPT officials are resisting SPT’s cheap SIM card proposal because of business dealings they may have with Tay Za’s companies.

Burma’s current Constitution states that the national government shall prevent acts that harm the public interest through monopolization or manipulation of prices by an individual or group with intent to endanger fair competition in economic activities, and an anti-trust bill was proposed in Parliament last year by an opposition party. 

Whether or not SPT’s plan to sell cheap phone cards is allowed to proceed will provide an indication of whether the new government can create a fair economic playing field that encourages new domestic businesses and foreign investment.

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Marty Myanmar Wrote:
08/02/2012
MPT should be the body that monitors communication related activities in Myanmar, not to provide the service. The government always thinks its knows better than its people. SINGTEL, M1 and Stabhub are literally run by Myanmar engineers in Singapore.

There should be at least 4 independent telecom providers in Myanmar in any given location. The competition should provide the people with the best service at the most affordable price.

If you want to think about the country, then forget about it, 50 years of military rule shows that thinking about the country makes it the poorest in the world. The people ARE the country, other wise what heck are you working and fighting for.

myanmar lady Wrote:
07/02/2012
I absolutely approve the SPT'effort and as a myanmar I also want my people able to connect with other people with cheap and good communication network. MPT monopolized the communication but we eagerly wait the cheap phone sim card.

Ko Ko La Min Wrote:
04/02/2012
I would like to see all of our burmese people can use with reasonable cost, if they get cheap with reliable service it even better. Besides the government should allow this kind of proposal from SPT, to encourage others businessmen/women so that they can come up with better plan for theirs n the Nation benifits. SPT should collect signatures form public who like the plan n services to submit to president TS. I can see many sign, oh millions. The Anti-Trust bill should be in placed

Ko Bala Wrote:
03/02/2012
Well, we would like to have cheap and usable mobile phone for all of our country men. If one can support why others try to hindering the processing of receiving the phone, rather help each other for the goodness of the people, right? We would like to appreciate to MD of SPT and those who really wish to do for the sake of Myanmar people.

r loo boo dee Wrote:
03/02/2012
in australia sim card cost only 2 dollars while a packet of potato chip cost 3 dollars fifty cents

kerry Wrote:
03/02/2012
Good. This is encouraging choice, freedom of choice, and a healthy economy.

Government monopolies are from another era, as is torture, forced labor, killing, rape, child soldiers and exploitation.

Com-Guy Wrote:
03/02/2012
Mr. President and MPT, please don't be afraid to make significant changes. The Myanmar people desperately need the best communication for the best interest of our development, the development of our country. We need it for our socio-economic and educational purposes. If other poor countries like Laos, can sell SIM card at the price as low as one or two dollars, why we can't do that. Now the price SPT's will introduce is still high compared to that of some other countries in ASEAN. But we welcome it because it is much lower than that of MPT and other companies.

Mr. President, I would strongly and respectfully, suggest you that this is one of the basic needs for the development of our country in every aspect, and it is one of the priority areas you need to improve as soon as possible. Please make it happen.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
03/02/2012
Sim card is very cheap in Thailand and other south east Asian countries and also hand set is cheap just around US$30 and up its depend on the many many system. What harm if any company which can effort to sell in cheap price sim card? these business cronies has to pay their cost one day. These peoples are public enemy they should be eleminated from the eye of the public and also from business field.

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