GT&T wants strict monitoring in post-monopoly period
– alarmed at illegal bypass, aiming for tax reduction
The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) is insistent that a level playing field remains one of its highest concerns as negotiations continue with government on the looming liberalisation of the telecoms sector.
The National Assembly, as early as March month end, is set to consider new legislation that will allow new players to fight for a foothold in what is considered one of the most lucrative markets in Guyana.
However, several attempts to have the matter discussed in the National Assembly have been delayed, with government deferring it amidst continuing negotiations with GT&T and mobile carrier, Digicel Guyana.
Not only does GT&T have a monopoly on international calls but it has the sole licence for operations of landlines.
Digicel, having to route its international calls through GT&T, has been fighting tooth and nail for the monopoly to be broken.
Government, wary of the legal implications, especially with the fact that GT&T’s parent company, Atlantic Tele Network (ATN) is US-owned and a foreign investor, has been having meetings with the two on the possibilities of reaching an agreement.
Questioned yesterday on the talks, GT&T’s outgoing Chief Financial Officer (ag), Sonita Jagan, was at pains to express that GT&T was not opposed to liberalisation…rather, the company wants a level playing field.
A large part of GT&T’s revenue over the years has been from international calls and this was used to subsidise the cost of landlines to customers.
The official explained that talks included the system of strict monitoring and established systems, complete with qualified personnel, to ensure that players are not given unfair advantage.
“It is not just about having an agreement,” Jagan stressed.
Another critical aspect, she admitted, is the 45% Corporation Tax that telephone companies have to pay. While a recent law change last year reduce Corporation Taxes to 35%, GT&T and Digicel have been made exceptions.
Hinting that this could be considered discriminatory, Jagan stressed that GT&T has been paying millions in taxes – the 10% difference in tax could easily be reinvested to much-needed technological infrastructure.
GT&T has also been taking a beating on its international calls revenue. Not only have persons been illegally using multiple SIM cards from mobile phones to bypass GT&T’s system, making cheap international calls, but there has been no help from government.
While GT&T has been attempting to block these “fly-by-night” operators, it is difficult fight, Jagan said.
GT&T officials also highlighted the increasing usage of Skype, an internet application that allows cheap international calls and free computer-to-computer calls. The bypassing of calls also has security implications.