Breaking of telecoms monopoly…
By Leonard Gildarie
As Guyana prepares to open its markets to telephone and similar service-related companies, at least one firm says its stands ready to compete to bring the costs of international calls down.
Two government-tabled Bills were on Thursday sent to a Special Select Committee of Parliament for further consultations.
The passage of the Bills through the National Assembly and their subsequent enactment into law will effectively open the market allowing companies, both local and foreign, to enter Guyana and provide the same service as the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T).
GT&T currently has the monopoly on landline and international calls.
Yesterday, Digicel signaled its intentions to focus heavily in the area of international calls.
GT&T’s licence mandates other companies to route international calls through them.
“The people of Guyana have waited for too long for full liberalization. More than anything, we are extremely keen that real competition is introduced, and introduced quickly into the market, for international calls. We know that the people of Guyana want this as well and want it quickly. Digicel wants to compete on a level playing field and to be in a position to offer real competitive services and products to the people of Guyana,” Gregory Dean, Digicel’s Chief Executive Officer, says.
He explained that Digicel has been lobbying the government to fully liberalize the telecoms market since the company first launched here, in 2007.
“Unfortunately, Guyana has maintained a monopoly in the critical area of international services since the 1990s. As such, Guyana has really not ever properly embraced true liberalization or true competition.”
Dean also called for a speedy enactment of the legislation.
“The sooner this is done the better. This is really the key issue in all of this. So for us, this is really about consigning the monopolies to the past and bringing Guyana into a new era of modern, liberalized telecommunications.”
The Bills being reviewed in the Special Select Committee may still have minor issues, but Digicel is largely pleased.
“We are reviewing them with a view to providing further assistance and input to the government. Obviously a lot of work has gone into the preparation of the draft legislation… that much is obvious… and the government is to be applauded in that regard.”
Questioned about other key areas that Digicel may want to capitalize on, Dean, while cautious, admitted that his company is looking at a whole slew of features.
This includes the faster data mobile systems – 3G and 4G networks – the trend in more developed countries.
The opening up of the market will effectively mean that Digicel will be further spreading its tentacles in Guyana, Dean disclosed.
“We are planning to have connections throughout Guyana, in places where there were no connections before.”
After ten years of operation, Digicel Group Limited has 11.5 million customers across its 32 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific.
The special parliamentary committee now has until early September to finish its considerations and public consultations for the two Bills before they are returned to the National Assembly.
GT&T’s iron-clad agreement inked during the PNC administration in the early 90s had been seen by government as a major impediment to the growth of the telecommunications sector, with only Digicel offering competition in the form of mobile services.
The legislation, when enacted into law, will effectively nullify the GT&T agreement and allow for other companies to enter the local market, offering a variety of services and benefits, including more bandwidth, more mobile service providers, more landlines and a host of other internet-related services.
There will be significant legislative changes to also address licencing and spectrum authorization, pricing, interconnection and access, universal access, competition issues and consumer protection.
When enacted into law, the legislation will also address the number of Internet Protocol service providers – four large ones in Guyana – and a number of other companies linked.
Under the legislation, the Telecommunications Agency, under which the National Frequency Monitoring Unit (NFMU) will fall, will be the technical regulator, while the Public Utilities Commission will function as the economic regulator for the sector.
The Minister will among other things, be responsible for developing policy, overseeing the agency and granting and denying applications for licences and frequency authorizations.
Both GT&T and Digicel will be issued new licences with different conditions, and the four internet service providers will finally be receiving theirs.
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