Sparq fizzles under fire

BLOCKED SIGNALS::New Century InfoComm Tech Co hoped to end long-distance telelphone service to six countries, but lacks NCC approval for its application

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Mar 15, 2014 - Page 4

New Century InfoComm Tech Co (新世紀資通), also known as Sparq, has sought to suspend international telephone service to six regions due to what the company called continual losses due to hackers, but its application has yet to be approved by the National Communications Commission (NCC).

The six countries, regions or service areas include Somalia, Guinea, Liechtenstein, the Cook Islands of New Zealands, certain areas in Austria and the Thuraya Satellite phone service.

Cheng Ming-tsung (鄭明宗), chief of the commission’s fixed network communication section, said the fixed network operator decided to cancel the services because of dramatic increases in charges.

The communication charge to Somalia, for example, had risen from a few hundred US dollars per month to more than NT$100,000 (US$3,296) and even to NT$2 million per month.

Sparq is contractually obligated to give a percentage of the communication charge to operators in these locations, and between October 2012 and March last year, Sparq paid NT$8.04 million, Cheng said.

“Some of Sparq’s clients reported that their bills contained questionable calls to these countries, which were not made during office hours. They suspected that hackers may have accessed the clients’ telephone networks and made calls. The operators cannot bill their clients for these calls and can only pay the charges out of their pockets,” Jeng said. “Because of the reported abuse, the operator decided to suspend services to these countries altogether.”

However, Cheng said the commission has yet to approve Sparq’s application.

“We understand where the operators are coming from, but people may still need the service for emergency use. So we want to find out if similar situations have happened to other operators and work out the principles of solving this type of dispute,” Cheng said.

According to Cheng, Chunghwa Telecom Co and Taiwan Mobile Co have reported similar abuse, which resulted in a loss of about NT$1 million for both companies.

In other developments, the Consumer Foundation said a survey found that 11 types of mobile phone prepaid cards have illegal expiration dates.

According to the foundation, seven are for mobile phone service and four are for Internet service.

In response, NCC said the unused transmission data volume on the prepaid Internet cards must turn into credits for voice communication after any expiration date.

Prepaid cards for voice communication must not list expiration dates, the commission said.