…international charges reduced
By Murtland Haley
The Public Utilities Commission has approved the application of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) to increase its landline rates and reduce the international rates on calls.
The order was handed down on June 9, last by the PUC. The increase in landline rates and services will take effect from August 1, 2017 while the reduction of international rates will take effect from July 1, 2017.
The PUC said that its order will be for temporary rates and that it will continue to monitor the services continuously to ensure that GTT improves the quality of service offered to the public.
The changes to landline metered rates are as follows:
According to the PUC, the landline metered rates are to be billed on a per minute basis for the first minute or part thereof and on a per second basis after the first minute. In addition to these increases, the installation charge for dial tone access line has also been increased.
For residential lines, the new charge is $2000, an increase of $1500; for business places, the old fee was $1500 while the new rate is $4000.
In the PUC’s decision it was stated that the installation charges include the cost for the handset which GTT will supply. Further, in the event that the device is damaged or becomes useless due to customer misuse, the telephone company may replace the handset but the customer pays the cost for a new handset.
The increases do not stop there. The monthly rental dial tone access charge will also go up in the coming months. As it relates to residential customers who have no more than two lines the charge will now be $750 instead of $500 as was previously charged.
For residential customers using more than two lines, the new rental charge is $1500, a 50 per cent increase from the old charge of $1000. Business entities using no more than four lines will now have to pay $2250 as against the previous rate of $1500. Businesses using more than four lines will now pay $4500 instead of $3000.
Moreover, charges for wire line switched features such as speed calling; three-way calling, call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail and caller ID among other services were also increased. In some cases where no charges were applied for certain services such as ring again, call forward busy, call forward simultaneous and make set busy will now attract rates of $255 and $360 for residential and business customers respectively.
Increased rates were also approved for Miscellaneous Non-Recurring services such as programme charge, record change, observed line and activate observed line. In some cases increases were by 20 per cent.
Under Operator Assistance, rates for services were increased by 20 per cent from $116 to $140. Previously, there was no charge for domestic directory assistance but that service will now attract a charge of $140.
Directory charges are now $340 as against $284 that was previously charged. Despite these increases, the PUC approved the reduction for outbound international calls to 250 destinations.
GTT’s application for the changes to these rates was first made in July 2014. According to the PUC, in that application the company had asked for a variation of rates, certain increases in the landline services, a reduction in outbound rates and a change of methodology in the manner in which some services are billed.
The PUC said that the application was based mainly on a claim by the telecommunications giant that it was not earning a 15 per cent rate of return on capital dedicated to public use. This application was dismissed by the Commission. However, the order was appealed by GTT and the matter was referred to the Court of Appeal for a final decision.
Subsequently, the company filed an application for the PUC to review the order. The appeal before the Court of Appeal was then withdrawn and the Commission granted leave for a review of the application.
It was noted during the original hearing that the 15 per cent return on capital dedicated for public use is based on a ‘guarantee’ in terms of the agreement signed by their principal Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) of the USA and the Government of Guyana.
The PUC recognised that the company has been earning below the 15 per cent threshold. However, it was stated that any increase of landline tariffs must lead to an expanded and improved quality of service and the company a better public image.
As such, the Commission said that it expects that certain conditions need to be met.
These conditions are that GTT must complete the end to end provisioning of the FITX Phase one in La Grange, West Bank Demerara and to commence the commercial launch of services in the areas which they have identified.
Secondly, the Commission expects GTT to submit quarterly detailed appraisal of progress showing the number of new services rolled out, inclusive of rural areas. “This should not be less than 1000 lines per quarter; which may include up to 25 per cent re-issue lines.”
Further, the Commission said that it has found GTT to be tardy in their response time and remedial actions with respect to fault reporting.
“To this end, the Commission requests a quarterly report from the date the rates take effect showing details of the average time taken to resolve consumers’ complaints, residential and business; and for the company to determine a daily compensatory credit for consumers which will be contingent on its failure to comply.”
In December 2016, the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA) refuted claims made by GTT that Guyanese are no longer interested in owning a landline. This position was communicated to the PUC concerning GTT’s application.
The GCA has accused the telephone company of hiding its true profits and employing creative accounting practices to hide its assets and true profits. Further, the GCA said that GTT was easing its landline expansions in favour of the more lucrative mobile services.
Further, the group said, “GTT does not repair consumers’ telephones in good time, sometimes for months. People are therefore forced to buy cell phones. More importantly, thousands of people have applied for landline phones, but GTT does not ever supply them. Sometimes applications are in the system for several years.”
According to the PUC decision, statistics from GTT reveal that there are over 19,000 outstanding applications for land lines. This was described as “an unacceptable position. This is without doubt one of the reasons for the loss of revenue of which GTT complains so bitterly.”
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