Jul 31, 2016 News
The recent passage of the Telecommunications Bill in Parliament and the concomitant liberalization of the Telecoms Industry is a very important news event. From the time of the establishment of the Telecoms monopoly, the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA) has been struggling against its iniquities as the records of the Public Utilities Commission will attest.
In the past, the iniquities of the monopoly were far greater and more blatant than they are to-day. Indeed, it was heartening to see that on the day after the Liberalization Bill was passed, GTT carried a full-page advertisement in the press admitting that the removal of the monopoly would result in “Lower International Rates; Faster Internet; Better Customer Service; and a Wider Range of Service.”
In the Parliamentary debate, several speakers reiterated the benefits liberalization would bring to the Industry, the country and the consumer. Among the points made was that Guyana would be able to catch up with the advances Information and Communication Technology (ICT) had made over the years and would now be able to establish more fruitful social and economic relationships with the rest of the world.
It would stimulate competition within the Industry itself to the benefit of both providers and consumers. It would allow more service providers to enter the market thereby bringing new investment into the country and at the same time having more intensive competition between companies resulting in better packages for the consumer.
The Act prescribes the establishment of a Regulatory Body which will give effect to its mandate. That Regulatory Body would be responsible for seven areas which together are comprehensive. These areas include licensing; spectrum allocation, pricing, interconnection and access to universal services, telecoms and consumer related matters. It will also address the extension of network to unserved and underserved areas in the various Regions across Guyana.
It would be apposite to say a few words on two of these areas— Spectrum Allocation. “Spectrum” is a term taken from Physics and to try to explain it here would be complicated, but it is sufficient to know that it is absolutely necessary for wireless telecommunication. It is a very limited and valuable national asset. In other Caribbean jurisdictions it has been auctioned, bringing in several million US dollars.
ATN/GT&T had initially been demanding that additional Spectrum be given to them free of charge, or at most a very peppercorn rental. The allocation of Spectrum is a very important responsibility since one has to be au fait with market value as well as how will Spectrum allocation affect new entrants to the market and space for competition.
The other area we will mention is the extension of the network to underserved areas and the Interior. For social and economic cohesion, it is necessary that the whole country have telephonic connection.
When the original contract was signed between Government and Atlantic Telenetwork (ATN) giving GTT a monopoly of the telephone services of the country, the major consideration on GTT’s part was that it would provide landline service to a number of named Interior locations as well as install several thousand new landline telephones per year.
GTT never did its part of the contract. We shall return to this issue later.
The test of the validity and effectiveness of any Law is its enforcement. But the structures for the enforcement of the Telecommunications Act are not in place and this could mean the Act could not be fully enforced for many months, probably a year while structures are put in place. This would cause much disappointment and a dampening of the euphoria which the public felt on the passing of the Bill.
It would seem to us that we could have a functional regulatory body in a month-and- half if the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), a Department which is efficient and has a great deal of knowledge and experience in the field of Regulation, were regarded as the nucleus department to which the other areas are grafted on.
The naming of the new Department, reclassification of staff and recruitment of some new personnel as well as working out new structures and their functions could all be done in just over a month.
This would avoid embarrassing delay and the pitfalls of bureaucratization. The new Regulatory Body will perfect itself as it begins to work.
Just two days after the Telecommunications Bill was passed in Parliament, GTT held a press briefing. It first welcomed the new Liberalization Act and then immediately opened a new front with the Government of Guyana by calling upon the Government to honour what it termed the Government’s contractual obligations to them.
If the Contract GTT is referring to is the one made in 1979 giving it the monopoly of the telephone services, then the GCA has long been pointing out that the main consideration ATN/GTT has offered the Government was the establishing of several thousand landline telephones per year and the placing of landline connections in several named Interior locations. GTT had never fulfilled these obligations and had breached the Contract in a very real and substantial way.
Further, the renewal of the Contract in 2010 could not be legal since it was not the identical contract of 1979 which was renewed. These and other related factors will be brought to the fore from a consumer’s perspective as soon as GTT begins the engagement with Government.
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