Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ahmed Mohamed has claimed that changes made by telecommunication companies Dhiraagu and Wataniya are diluting market competition and damaging the public interest.
Both companies have upgraded their fair usage policies and increased the possible number of free texts per credit top-up from 20 to 50, effective January 1. They have also requested a tariff change due a hike in package prices.
“In the past, Dhiraagu had a monopoly. When Wataniya came in there was health competition in the country and phone charges decreased dramatically. But these recent actions, the fair usage policies and the change in tariffs, can be seen as colluding,” said Mohamed.
“I don’t know if there is a law against anti-competitive behavior in the market,” Mohamed explained, “but these colluding behaviors by the telecomm companies are not healthy for the general public.”
Mohamed said the government should act on any law which prohibits companies from colluding to reduce competition and drive up prices, or should create one to address such a situation.
Wataniya and Dhiraggu are the only two telecommunications companies in Maldives, and both introduced BlackBerry services to the Maldives this year.
CAM Deputy Director General Abdullah Pasha confirmed that CAM had approved tariffs for price changes, but said the authority did not regulate changes to free minutes “because it is used to manage excess capacity on their networks, and so it’s up to them.”
Pasha did not believe that the changes would hurt competition or impact the general public.
“Prices are going up in every sector right now, so this isn’t unusual,” he observed.
Officials at both telecommunications companies were unaware of Mohamed’s statement, and did not believe that there was cause for concern.
“Competition is one of the fundamental things of a strong, successful business. We definitely don’t engage in anything that would compromise market competition,” said Dhiraagu Marketing and PR executive Imjad Jaleel.
Jaleel said Dhiraagu has made several changes which bear similarities to upgrades made by Wataniya, but claimed that the coincidence was an effect of catering to the same population.
“After all we are talking about the Maldives market,” he said. Jaleel added that changes at Dhiraagu are always monitored by an outside party. “Dhiraagu must go through the Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) to make any changes, and we follow CAM’s advise and cooperate with its regulations. There is nothing we would do to damage competition, or have a negative impact on the general public.”
Wataniya’s Head of Marketing and Communications Aishath Zamra Zahir said the company was also “following the usual procedure with CAM, and [has] fulfilled all the licensing requirements.”
Zahir added that Wataniya’s changes have not tamed the market, but rather have maintained the company’s competitive edge.
“We still offer the lowest IDD (international direct dialing) in the country,” she pointed out.
According to Wataniya‘s new fair usage policy, customers can receive up to 1000 free minutes when making calls from a free phone number.
Dhiraagu customers with post paid plans can now receive between 1000 and 5000 free minutes per month for calls with free numbers, according to their plan.
Jaleel pointed out that these revisions are not unique to the Maldives, but rather reflect “a trend that is happening everywhere in the world.”