The Guyana Public Utilities Commission, the country’s regulator, has green-lighted the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) to start charging for the Subscriber Activated Call Blocking feature.
This service allows the subscriber, to among other things, block un-authorized outgoing calls.
GT&T requested that the Commission consider and approve a monthly tariff of $310 per subscriber desirous of using the service.
However, according to the PUC order released this week, effective from February 1, 2019, residential consumers will pay a fixed monthly charge of $30 for the Subscriber Activated Call Blocking service.
The commercial consumers will pay a fixed monthly charge of $70.
According to PUC, as of November 16, last, when the order was made, GTT shall embark on a sensitization exercise for consumers regarding the impending tariff, the implementation date and the options available to the consumers.
According to GTT in its order, the consumer will have the option of choosing any number of the call blocking features at the tariff as set by the Commission.
“That the Commission further orders and directs that where the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) fails, consumers’ accounts are to be credited for the number of days the consumers are unable to access any of the value-added services/features offered by the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN).”
GTT has been applying for a slew of tariff increases recently as Guyana prepares for the liberalization of the telecoms sectors to allow new investors.
The tariffs involve millions of dollars more in the US-owned GTT’s coffers.
The Guyana Consumers Association (GCA) has been insisting that GTT has not been investing as it should.
Already, GTT has been approved to institute new tariffs for landlines.
In their presentation, for this application, GT&T stated that in its June 2014 application for a tariff rebalancing, the company had applied for a revision in rates for several of its landline value added services.
Most of these were approved by the Commission in varying amounts. However, the Subscriber Activated Call Blocking Feature, a value-added service, was inadvertently omitted from the 2014 filing, hence this present application.
The Subscriber Activated Call Blocking Feature is not a new service, GTT has argued.
In fact, it had been activated for several years and according to the company there are currently 36,368 consumers who access the service free of charge.
The company views this feature as a service of convenience which adds value to the consumer landline service similar to that of other activated value-added services and for which the consumer pays to the GT&T a PUC-approved tariff.
GTT in its submissions stated that the monthly rate of $310 sought by GT&T, represents a point between the lower and upper extremities of past PUC approved rates for value-added services.
GT&T explained that the call blocking features allows the consumer the option for denial of all calls; out of exchange calls; cellular calls and International Direct Dialed (IDD) calls.
Among other things, the consumer is allowed to make local calls and Operator Assisted International Calls; or International Direct Dialed (IDD) Calls. The customer can make calls within the exchange, out of the exchange, cellular calls and Operator Assisted International calls.
GTT argued that it had initially invested US$190,000 for an array of other value-added features that complements the wireline fixed service of which the subscriber activated call blocking feature under consideration in the application is included.
GTT also claimed it pays a recurring cost of US$250,008 for the maintenance and upkeep of the service.
In its presentation the company indicated that it was considering a further US$300,000 for the upgrade of this system.
However, the Guyana Consumer Association (GCA) opposed the imposition of a tariff for this service.
Representing GCA were President, Patrick Dial and Yog Mahadeo, advisor to the association.
Appearing for GTT were Mark Reynolds, Director, Legal and Regulatory Affairs; and Floyd Rodney – Senior Engineer.
The consumer body made it clear that GTT’s operating cost to the company in continuing the call blocking feature is unlikely to increase.
In the circumstances, any tariff approval for this service would represent free cash flow to the company.
According to PUC in its order, the GCA further noted that the asset acquired in the initial investment to provide the value-added services is now fully depreciated.
“Further, the Association pointed to the quality of service and the downtime of the service which precludes the customer from enjoying a seamless service. In the circumstances, therefore, the GCA has suggested that if any charges are approved by the Commission, it should be user-based and not subscriber-based.”
On the question of the annual recurring maintenance cost for US$250,008, the GCA noted that charging for a value-added service that is currently being provided will in no way increase the maintenance cost.
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