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BT slapped with a lawsuit over overcharging elderly customers

Inside Telecom Staff

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British telecom giant BT is being slapped with a class action lawsuit over allegations that it has been overcharging elderly customers for eight years.

The lawsuit came in the wake of a 2017 report from telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, which found that the operator had been overcharging 2.3 million of its landline customers since 2009.

Since then, BT reduced the price of its landline service by £7 ($9.48) a month.

However, campaigners at the helm of the lawsuit argue that “loyal customers” are yet to be compensated.

London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya has filed a £600 million litigation to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).

If successful, this would result in each of the 2.3 million overcharged customers receiving payments of £500 each.

The case represents customers who purchased a BT landline contract but did not also take BT broadband or pay TV packages.

“Ofcom made it very clear that BT had spent years overcharging landline customers but did not order it to repay the money it made from this,” Campaigner Justin Le Patourel, founder of consumer group Collective Action on Landlines (CALL) and a telecoms consultant who worked for Ofcom for 13 years, told reporters.

Le Patrourel added that the compensation process begins with the filing of this claim.

In response, BT issued a statement “strongly disagreeing” with the claim that it had engaged in anti-competitive behavior and intends to defend itself “vigorously” in court.

“We take our responsibilities to older and more vulnerable customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against any claim that suggests otherwise,” a BT spokesperson said in the statement, adding that “for many years we’ve offered discounted landline and broadband packages in what is a competitive market with competing options available, and we take pride in our work with elderly and vulnerable groups.”

BT highlighted that it regrets being drawn into litigation on a topic which Ofcom considered more than three years ago. “At that time, Ofcom’s final statement made no finding of excessive pricing or breach of competition law more generally,” the operator said.

Ofcom’s 2017 report had uncovered that the wholesale price of providing landlines had dipped by at least 25 percent since 2009, but that all major landline providers in the UK had hiked line rental charges upwards between 28 percent and 41 percent.

Initially, Ofcom strongly criticized BT for raising prices, noting that customers were being given “poor value” for money. It added that many of the affected customers had “been with BT for decades” and were more likely to be old, on low incomes and vulnerable.

As a result of the watch dog’s review, BT announced that it would slash its landline prices by £84 a year.

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Telecoms

Deutsche Telekom suggests upcoming towers partnership

Karim Hussami

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Deutsche Telekom suggests upcoming towers partnership

“Because everybody does something, this is exactly why I’m not doing it,” Tim Hoettges, Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Telekom said, referring to the current trend of telecoms operators selling off tower assets for sizeable sums of money. “It might be right that you have to monetise your towers to deleverage your balance sheet… [but] we don’t need that today,” he said.

Deutsche Telekom will not part with its tower assets, despite recently reaching` a deal of that nature in the Netherlands, but it could look to float its passive infrastructure business or seek out a tower partnership.

Orange CEO Stéphane Richard recently named Deutsche Telekom as an ideal partner in the towers space; while the telco wants to retain control of its own towers, that could mean co-control with another big operator, Richard explained.

There were no formal talks happening with Deutsche Telekom – or Vodafone, Orange’s other perfect partner – when the CEO made the revelation.

Deustche Telekom appears to be following a similar strategy to Orange.

“It always takes two to tango,” said Hoettges, speaking at the German incumbent’s 2020 results call on Friday. “We might have a partner, where we have synergies and a value-enhancing story,” he said, a comment that doubtless caught the attention of executives at the operator’s French peer.

Passive infrastructure assets

Telefonica is one of the big names selling off towers, and it was honest about the fact that debt reduction was one of the main drivers of the €7.7 billion deal it inked with American Tower in January.

But for Deutsche Telekom, towers and their growing value are a strategic asset, “not just selling something and getting the money,” as Hoettges put it.

The operator brokered a deal for towers partnership in January, to combine its towers in the Netherlands with those of Cellnex and simultaneously create a fund in partnership with the towers firm to invest in passive infrastructure assets.

“This is a classic DT deal. We create optionalities for value-enhancing businesses outside…of our strategic envelope,” he said.

Benefits of towers partnership

As for the benefits that comes out of sharing networks, they include: the increase in the speed of opening new fields and enables the subscribers to provide network coverage to wide areas in a faster way with lower CapEx potential.

Operators also have chance to satisfy their customers with the quicker network coverage, as well as operators will start making money as of the first day by removing the field installing process.

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MTN faces rocky situation in Syria, hampering Middle East exit

Inside Telecom Staff

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MTN faces rocky situation in Syria, hampering Middle East exit

South African operator MTN is facing a rocky situation in Syria, as the company was placed under a judicial guardianship following a court battle that went in favor of the country’s telecoms regulator.

The Syrian Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority had previously accused the provider of mismanagement and violations of its licensing contract. According to Reuters, the state had claimed that the alleged violations deprived it of revenue, while MTN denied the allegations and said last week that it intended to appeal.

The regulator filed a lawsuit against the South African courier before the administrative court of Damascus seeking interim measures against MTN’s Syrian operations. The move cripples the company’s exit from the Syrian market, as it was reportedly hoping to settle a deal worth $65 million, amounting to 75 percent of MTN’s Syrian unit, Reuters reported.

It is worth mentioning that the administrative court of Damascus appointed MTN Syria minority shareholder Tele Invest as its guardian, which was primarily tapped to become the buyer of the Group’s 75 percent stake in its Syrian office.

The judicial guardian is responsible for managing its day-to-day operations.

The sale to TeleInvest is meant to be part of MTN Group’s plan to exit the Middle East, corresponding with its new strategy to focus on its core African markets in the medium-term future.

MTN Group highlighted in a statement late last week that it “strongly disagrees with the allegations made before the court” — which have yet to be made known — as well as the decision and intends to file an appeal. In addition, the group is also considering other appropriate steps to take in light of the ruling.

According to the provider, in the six months to June 2020, MTN Syria contributed 0.7 percent to the group’s reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. At that time, the net assets attributable to MTN Syria in the MTN Group accounts had been written down to the estimated recoverable amount of $80 million.

Reuters had also reported that MTN’s operations in the Middle East have been the center of wide controversy, with allegations over its use of bribes to win a 15-year operating license in Iran, while, in parallel, aiding militant groups in Afghanistan; MTN, however, denies all the allegations.

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STL signs record high $100 million deals across MEA

Inside Telecom Staff

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STL

India-based digital network integrator Sterlite Technologies (STL) announced on Monday that it has renewed and extended deals with leading telecoms providers in the Middle East and Africa region (MEA).

According to a company statement, the deals are worth more than $100 million, taking STL’s order book to a record high, while exhibiting the company’s unwavering focus on building future-ready digital networks within the region.

“STL is building solutions to empower its customers in the MEA region for optical connectivity and network software, enabling FTTH and 5G deployments.  We are proud to be a part of the progress of the Middle East and Africa. With our deep technology expertise and growing talent base, we will continue to deliver on the full potential of digital networks, providing enhanced experiences to consumers and businesses alike,” speaking on the deals, Sandeep Girotra, Global Sales Head, STL, said in a statement.

The global pandemic has pushed many telcos to heavily invest in building digital networks to be able to meet the rising demand for connectivity from people remaining indoors due to lockdown measures. STL has capitalized on this and expanded its presence in the region with their fully 5G ready Opticonn and Software Solutions.

“Our unique end-to-end solutions enables customers to build 5G hyperscale networks at a fast pace with lower long-term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These multi-years, multi-million-dollar deals range from optical connectivity solutions to network solutions,” the company said.

According to STL, one of the large-scale deals has been signed with a leading telco in the UAE to advance its 5G, 4G and FTTX network infrastructure through STL’s Opticonn Solutions, including onshore logistics and warehousing. Another multi-million-dollar digital transformation partnership has been formed with the leading telecommunications group in North Africa.

The unnamed telco will deploy STL’s digital billing solutions to 7 million subscribers across the region.

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