Saturday, 22  February 2003  
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Dramatic reduction in international call charges soon

A substantial reduction in overseas telephone calls is likely beginning from the middle of this year according to a new agreement the government will sign with telecommunications service providers shortly. The government announced yesterday that the seven major domestic operators of telecommunication services had agreed to fully cooperate with the new liberalisation policy in the sector.

This will be made possible when the government issues licenses to new companies to provide international call facilities. At present only the Sri Lanka Telecom operates what is known as the International Gateway.

"Short codes will make it possible for consumers to enjoy the benefits of competition with regard to international calls. The government expects a dramatic reduction in international call prices after the short codes are made available and equal access enabled," the announcement said. Some of the operators had earlier disagreed with the new policy, but the government stuck to the principle that would encourage competition and reduce prices.

According to the new policy, the network contribution by the External Gateway Operator to the licenses by the end of the month will be Rs110 in the first year and gradually decline over the next five years to be Rs 10 in the sixth year.

The government will start a "Viswa Grama Fund" to which contributions from the charges will be sent. This fund, to be managed by a development bank, will channel cash to the e-Lanka initiative through smart subsidies to take modern telecommunications and the Internet to rural areas.

The Ministry of Mass Communication, which is in charge of the project, will shortly appoint a task force with criminal investigation and technical expertise to ensure that the operators stick by the rules.

The aim of the project is to reduce the cost of international calls in Sri Lanka and thereby make the country competitive in the field.

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