Parliament’s main Opposition has expressed concerns over statements by the country’s biggest telephone company that its expansion plans to introduce new technology was halted because of a delay in permission by Government.
According to Member of Parliament of A Partnership For National Unity, Joseph Harmon, it is obvious that the delays in permission to the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) have nothing to do with new legislations in place to liberalise the telecoms industry.
Those legislations are currently being examined by the Special Select Committee established by the National Assembly last year.
On Saturday, GT&T’s Chief Executive Officer, Radha Krishna Sharma, complained to media workers that the US-owned company applied to Government four years ago for new spectrum to allow for significant investments in Third and Fourth Generation (3G/4G) technology, and which would have seen faster internets to smart phones and other devices.
This was after the company had already spent $6B to bring a fibre optic, high speed data cable from Suriname.
The company also criticised Government’s involvement for a US$37M E-Governance project to connect its agencies with internet using towers and a fibre optic cable from Brazil.
Such a project should have been handled by the private sector, GT&T said.
According to Harmon yesterday, it appears that the E-Governance project was being pushed in a manner that could run GT&T out of business, a scenario not hard to imagine especially since there seems to be no reason why permission to expand was not granted.
“We are talking here about a company that has been around for almost two decades. I understand now that GT&T has brought technical experts to make presentations to Government on its plans for the 3G/4G networks. The issue here is very clear. GT&T is wondering whether there is a level playing field.”
APNU, Harmon said, will be looking at the new telecoms legislations in the National Assembly to ensure that a level playing field will be provided to any companies that wants a part in the industry.
Harmon, whose faction has 26 seats and with the Alliance For Change, controls the House by a one-seat majority, made it clear that note has been taken of the fact that at least two companies have been earmarked for telecoms licences when the industry is liberalized for new players to enter.
However, he was reluctant to say what changes will be made, only pointing out that work is being done.
The telecommunication industry took the spotlight last year after investigations by Kaieteur News found that there is a clear attempt to take it over.
There have been speculations that the E-Governance fibre optic cable will be used by a number of favoured companies to directly control data and telephone services.
Two companies, Global Technology and Quark Communications, have been named in the legislations as being first in line for operating licences. The problem that has been angering industry operators is that both companies have links to friends of the administration.
Quark’s operations is housed in the Versailles, West Bank Demerara compound of TVG, a company owned by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, who happens to be a close friend of former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Ramroop also sits as a director on Global Technology. Sitting on Quark as a director is Sabrina Singh, a niece of Jagdeo.
Winston Brassington, a controversial figure who spearheaded a number of large scale projects for Government including the Marriott Hotel and the troubled Amaila Falls hydro facility, is a central figure in Quark.
Quark’s main founder is Brian Yong. He is known to be a close friend of Jagdeo and was even on his party’s elections campaign as a candidate in 2011.
The companies, Quark and Global Technology would be able to compete directly with Digicel and GT&T once the laws are passed in the National Assembly and assented to by President Donald Ramotar.
The companies have already reportedly started expansion, even though the licences have not yet been granted.
With Government unveiling an aggressive project to connect 90,000 poor families with internet, any company receiving a telecoms licence will be poised to capitalize also on the mobile phone market, an area that is jealously guarded by the current companies and worth billions of dollars.
Leader of the AFC, Khemraj Ramjattan, last year said that his party had found it strange that Government had decided up front who are the four companies that will be receiving licences.
“A telecoms licence is not a joke that is handed willy-nilly to anyone…We are supposed to have an open, transparent system allowing everyone to have a chance to compete.”
Ramjattan said that “to decide beforehand who you want to operate in the market is indeed strange and worrying…We can draw some conclusions from this…We will move to make some changes to change this criminal nonsense.”
There has been growing worry over what appears to be a takeover also of the media landscape.
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