New twist in tariff controversy, Office of Regulator slams broadcasters

By Alexander Rheeney 28 October 2019, 4:00PM

The controversy over a $35,759 monthly tariff that local broadcasters will need to pay in order to use Samoa’s new digital broadcasting platform has taken a new twist.

The monthly tariff was set by the Office of the Regulator (OOTR) which then advised local television stations of the cost, only for Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to write to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i earlier this month to warn that it is too high and could “kill” the stations.

"Consider the complaint about the monthly tariff of $37,759 to be paid by one TV station," a translation of the Prime Minister's letter reads.

"What is your response to this curse?

“The digital [T.V.] was established to assist the people and yet it appears it will kill the television stations which have served (Samoa) for a long time."

Over the weekend the OOTR released a statement, though this time lambasting the local television stations for criticising the tariff and adding that they had no knowledge in making tariff calculations.

“The broadcasters do not have knowledge of regulatory aspects for tariff calculations, as they were not privileged to regulatory capacity building on calculating tariffs in the broadcasting market,” reads the OOTR statement.

The OOTR further added that should the local television stations wish to question their calculations, they should “hire economists to recommend real market analysis”.

“The Office of the Regulator wishes to advise the broadcasters of the need to hire economists to recommend the real market analysis and how finances and expenses are collected and also the standards the OOTR is using to calculate tariffs,” the statement reads.

“For the broadcasters to insist on lowering the tariff that OOTR sets as mandated by law is disrespectful. We are only doing the work that is required of us by implementing it based on the right interpretation of the law passed in Parliament.”

Afamasaga defended the tariff, when he was contacted by the Samoa Observer after the Prime Minister expressed his concerns.

“The tariff was worked out by the Regulator in the beginning on the communications with the company [Samoa Digital Communications Limited]; as it is the role of the Regulator," he said.

“The tariff was passed on to the television stations and it is expensive – which is true – and then we [Government] stepped in."

He said after negotiations with Samoa Digital Communications Limited, the tariff has decreased to $23,000. 

“And that is a huge drop, the difference is $12,000,” he said.

 “There are a lot of other costs that we did not account for in the beginning which the company had gone beyond their scope of work to do more for the country.”

Comment is being sought from the managements of the local television stations. 

By Alexander Rheeney 28 October 2019, 4:00PM

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