– Digicel appalled
By Leonard Gildarie
New telecommunication regulations which were expected to be passed by the National Assembly yesterday was at the very last moment deferred to the next Parliament.
The move has since been met with a swift denouncement by mobile giant, Digicel, which had been hoping for the enacted laws to develop its international calls portfolio.
The regulations would have seen, government says, new telecoms players entering the market, introducing newer, improved services to the country.
In a surprising twist yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee asked for the considerations of the bills to be deferred to the next Parliamentary sitting. Rohee was standing in for the absent Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, whose responsibilities include the telecoms sector.
As yesterday was the last sitting of the Ninth Parliament, this meant that the Telecommunications Bill and Public Utilities Commission Amendment Bill will not be passed and enacted this year.
Parliament is constitutionally mandated to dissolve to make way for the National Elections scheduled to be held by yearend.
PPP/C Member of Parliament, Gail Teixeira, questioned about the decision to have the matter considered in the new Parliament, disclosed that significant comments were made that warranted the deferral. She declined to elaborate.
Government has signaled its intentions for a number of years now to break what was described as an ironclad monopoly of the partially state-owned Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T).
GT&T’s parent company, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), had signed an agreement under the former People’s National Congress (PNC) administration to take over the government-controlled Guyana Telecommunication Corporation (GTC).
The PPP/C administration had been expressing unhappiness over the pace of developmental projects by GT&T, the new company which was formed from GTC, and one in which Guyana had retained a 20% share.
The two bills tabled in the National Assembly a few weeks ago were initially sent a Special Select Committee to be studied and for adjustments to be made from suggestions from the public. It was expected to be passed yesterday.
GT&T’s Chief Executive Officer, Yog Mahadeo, had expressed reservations over the bills and said the company had limited time to make its input last year. GT&T had also said that it stands willing to continue talks to government.
GT&T has a monopoly on landlines and international calls.
The company’s CEO had however insisted that the monopoly was one on paper, since illegal international calls and bypasses were rampant and eating away at GT&T’s profits.
Contacted yesterday, Mahadeo declined comment.
The legislation, when enacted, 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.
It will also address a number of Internet Protocol service providers – four large ones in Guyana – and other companies interested in offering services in the field.
Under the legislation, the Telecommunications Agency, 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 authorisations.
Meanwhile, following the news last evening that the passage of the bills had been deferred, Digicel Guyana, which has been an emerging player in the mobile market, said it is appalled at yet another aborted attempt at liberalisation in Guyana.
“This statement is made in light of failure of Parliament today to pass the necessary legislation which would have brought an end to more than twenty years of a monopoly on international calls in Guyana. Despite months of consultations and commitments, the Government pulled the legislation at the eleventh hour.”
According to Digicel, Parliament’s decision to allow the current monopoly to continue, crushes Guyana’s hope for lower international calling rates within the near future.
“It also makes one wonder when the needs of the Guyanese public will take priority over the needs of ATN, GT&T’s parent company. Digicel is requesting that details of the late submission, (and for) the reason for the withdrawal of the promised legislation from Parliament today (yesterday) be made available to all stakeholders.”
Gregory Dean, CEO of Digicel Guyana, said that his company is saddened to know the people of Guyana will continue to have a lack of choice and sky high prices on international calls as a result of the current international monopoly.
“This was Guyana’s opportunity to be propelled into a new era of a modern, liberalised telecommunications sector where consumers are the real winners. Once again, all of the talk has come to nothing.”
Digicel made it clear that after four years of operating in a “monopoly environment”, it was looking forward to finally being able to compete without its hands tied behind its back.
“Digicel has been able to transform the landscape of domestic telecommunications in Guyana and has expressed commitment to doing the same on the international level. Since Digicel’s entry into the market in 2007, the company has been instrumental in reducing local call rates by more than fifty percent.”
These, Digicel said, resulted in the barrier of high activation fees of $4,500 being removed, the cost of handsets reduced significantly, and the significant improvement of quality.
“The decision today will further impact Digicel’s ability to invest in accordance with its plans in Guyana. It has now been twenty years, nine months and four days since Guyana has been tied to the existing monopoly with no end in sight. This latest in the long line of failed attempts to end GT&T’s monopoly has come as a grave disappointment to Digicel,” Dean concluded.
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