Recent 3G rate hikes "appropriate,' claims Vietnam telecom department

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Even as a ministry is investigating allegations that the country's three biggest telcos recently hiked 3G tariffs in an apparently coordinated manner, a top telecom official has rejected them.

Mobifone, Vinaphone, and Viettel -- who have a 97 percent market share -- increased the rates for a range of 3G packages October 16, including a 40 percent hike for their unlimited and students' preferential packages.

The tariffs increased by 20 percent on average, but Pham Hong Hai, director of the Ministry of Information and Communications' Telecommunication Department, said the hikes were "appropriate."

They did not have a big impact on users and helped bring 3G rates closer to market prices, he said.

According to the department, less than 9 percent of around 19 million 3G subscribers pay more following the tariff hikes.

3G rates are still 34 percent lower than market rates, it said.

Asked about the big players effecting hikes at the same time, the department said only three packages among many have similar prices.

Of course, Mobifone and Vinaphone have many similar-priced packages since they are both subsidiaries of the same parent the Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group.

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The Ministry of Industry and Trade's Vietnam Competition Authority is investigating price-fixing charges against the three.

News website VnExpress quoted Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang as saying at a press conference November 8 that his ministry, which had green lighted the hikes, based its approval on the supply-demand situation and average tariffs in the region.

Further rate hikes would "surely" be considered soon, he added.

Two days earlier the Telecommunication Department had said its approval for the hike dovetailed with the national telecom development plan and was in accordance with the Telecommunication Law, which allows telcos to decide prices themselves. 

The telcos have always complained that Vietnam's 3G rates are among the lowest in the world and too low for them to be profitable.

In Vietnam, the average 3G tariffs are only 35 percent of those in the AsiaPacific region, according to the department.

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