While light may be at the end of the tunnel, the ongoing negotiations between Government and US-owned Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) is a complex series of exchanges that brings matters from the 1990s to the middle of the table. From outstanding taxes to spectrum and an existing licence that GTT has, the hurdles have been presenting themselves.
These disclosures were made Monday evening when Minister of Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, appeared as a guest on the online Globespan 24×7 forum, The People’s Voice.
Hosting the programme was Dr. Yog Mahadeo, a former CEO of GTT.
The liberalisation process has been a vexing one. From since the 90s, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), a little known US company, took over the government-owned telecoms company.
It was given monopoly on the landline and the international calls.
Some 20 years later, GTT exercised its rights and renewed the contract. By that time, the Bharrat Jagdeo administration was convinced that it wanted other providers and made arrangements for its 20 percent in shares to be sold.
GTT was accused of being too slow to expand its network and provide faster internet.
Many areas were still without landline and key services.
The Government of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic attempted to land its own fibre optic cable for internet from Brazil. It ended all wrong because of implementation.
In 2016, after years of attempts, and under the Coalition Government, amendments to the telecoms laws made it possible for other players to enter. However, Government still had to contend with GTT’s licence.
GTT has been demanding among other things, tax concessions and spectrums.
Currently, GTT is competing with Digicel on the mobile market. They have been battling in the courts over the licence.
According to Dr. Mahadeo, there have been increasing complaints of poor service in the Essequibo Coast and other areas. With the United Nations making it clear that the internet is a human right, the liberalisation process has brought pressure on the government.
According to Minister Hughes, that 2016 law amendments were critical to the process going forward.
She admitted that the process should have been completed a while ago and that there is a non-binding agreement between Government and GTT for liberalisation.
According to Hughes, the negotiations were multi-sectoral, and involved the Ministry, Guyana Revenue Authority, Attorney General’s Chambers and the National Frequency Management Unit.
Among some of the difficulties, that has seen some wrangling is over taxes that GRA may be claiming from GTT dating back to the 90s…almost US$40M. GTT is denying that it owes that.
Hughes was positive, noting that significant work has been done since 2016.
She said that government respects all international contracts and is pushing for a mutual agreement on all fronts. She emphasised that it is not within her remit to direct independent agencies like GRA on how to act.
Hughes also stressed that there are aspects like the internet, which was not contemplated or accommodated in the GTT licence or telecoms laws.
However, there are positives…several companies are preparing to enter the market.
Guyanese have been pushing for especially faster internet and more services, including 5G.
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