Business

No disconnections until curfew is lifted: Telcos

By Madhusha Thavapalakumar

With no signs of lifting curfew, telecommunication service providers have resigned to providing uninterrupted service throughout the curfew period without disconnection, despite the accumulated total of customers’ outstanding payments.

Leading service providers in the country told The Sunday Morning Business that they have extended the credit facility for their respective subscriber base until the country returns to normalcy.

This decision has been taken by the service providers to keep up with the directive issued to them by their regulator, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL).

Earlier this month, the TRCSL requested the service providers not to discontinue any services due to non-payment during this period and advised to provide a grace period for users until end-April to settle their bills.

However, now it is understood that this grace period may go on for longer than April, unless the spread of the virus shows signs of slowing down significantly, and if the curfew is not lifted by end-April.

Sri Lanka Telecom

The Sunday Morning Business contacted Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) CEO Kiththi Perera, who told us that SLT is not making any disconnections during this period as they understand the gravity of the prevailing situation. However, with a view to make their business sustainable, SLT is in the process of launching an online payment app, encouraging people to settle their bills.

“We are not forcing people to settle their bills during this time because that is not fair, but we are encouraging people to settle their bills if they can. In addition to all these measures, we have re-connected certain connections that were disconnected due to non-payment even before this Covid-19 issue. We have connected these even without them (customers) settling the payments,” Perera added.

According to him, SLT too is planning to provide flexible payment plans to their corporate clients once they get back in business, and payment plans will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

SLT’s company profit for the year ended 2018 was Rs. 1.9 billion while it was Rs. 1.4 billion a year prior.

Dialog

Speaking to us, Dialog Axiata PLC CEO Supun Weerasinghe confirmed that Dialog has stopped disconnecting services based on outstanding payments until the end of the curfew situation.

“We cannot give people a deadline to settle their bills at the moment. It is unfair of us to ask them to pay now. Until the end of the curfew, we will continue providing services and after that, we will give them a reasonable time to settle,” Weerasinghe added.

He noted that the non-settling of bills during this period is mainly due to constrained mobility as a result of the ongoing curfew. However, he added that about 40% of Dialog users settle their bills through online banking and other online payment tools.

Furthermore, he noted that Dialog is considering providing their corporate customers a grace period until September where before the end of this grace period, it will not levy penalty charges for outstanding payments of its corporate customers.

“We are dealing with the corporate customers on a case-by-case basis. We give them flexibility. We have to work out payment and instalment plans with the customer based on the bill value. Still we have not looked at that,” Weerasinghe added.

Speaking further, he stated that their current focus is to provide uninterrupted service to customers and make them aware of their usage on a daily basis so that their total consumption value will not be a

shock at the end of the month.

Dialog Axiata is a listed company and a subsidiary of the Malaysian Axiata Group. For the year ended 31 December 2019, the company’s profit stood as Rs. 11.5 billion compared to Rs. 4.3 billion a year prior.

As at end-2018, Dialog had a market share of over 44% and a 13.8 million mobile subscriber base.

Mobitel

Meanwhile, Mobitel CEO Nalin Perera confirmed to us that Mobitel will be providing continuous service to its customers during this curfew period despite their dues and uncertainty around the lifting of curfew.

“The extended credit facility will be given until the prevailing situation returns to normalcy. I think we can sustain massive dues from the corporate businesses as we understand their situation in this time,” Perera stated.

Furthermore, he noted that Mobitel’s revenue has been satisfactory so far in this period as people are consuming more data during their stay at home.

Mobitel is a fully owned subsidiary of SLT. It recorded a profit of Rs. 3.6 billion in 2018, compared to Rs. 3.3 billion in 2017. Mobitel has a market share of over 28% with a customer base of over 5 million.

 

Hutch

Meanwhile, Hutchison Telecommunications Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. CEO Thirukumar Nadarasa also confirmed to us that Hutch is providing continuous connection during this time despite the threat of the big bills to the cashflow of the company.

“Cashflow would be an issue in the future, but we have to understand that every business is hurt at this time. We are providing relief as much as we can to our users, both prepaid and postpaid,” Nadarasa noted.

Nadarasa added that Hutch’s data usage has gone up by 50% these days and their data revenue has also gone up to a certain extent in spite of the offers given by them to their consumers.

Hutch has a market share of over 17% following its merger with Etisalat in December 2018.

All the aforementioned operators confirmed that they will not layoff their employees while none of them have decided to slash salaries of their employees at the moment.

With the coronavirus (Covid-19) now spread across over 200 countries, telecommunication service providers in many countries including Australia, Pakistan, France, Russia, and Bahrain have provided various types of relief and offers to their customers.