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Fund to finance telecoms services in uneconomical areas

by Gary Eleazar

Communities across the country with no access to telecommunication services will soon be accommodated through a special fund to be set up, as part of the provisions under the recently approved Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2016.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, elucidated this point on Wednesday when he appeared before the Standing Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources. He was at the time responding to Committee Chairman, Odinga Lumumba, who objected to the stated notion that a feasibility study is being explored to use money from the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF) to service indigenous communities’ Information Communication Technology (ICT) needs.

Harmon told the Committee that under the approved telecoms legislation, there is such a fund catered for, to specifically target communities where established service providers may not deem it feasible to make an investment.

Lumumba–who was present and voted for the new Telecoms Bill on Monday last–pointed to an American version where tariffs paid by established companies, are set aside to be used to service communities without access to telecommunications services, such as telephone and internet access.

According to the Minister of State, “in the (approved) Telecommunications Bill, there is set aside a fund, the said fund that you (Lumumba) referred to and it deals with un-served areas.”

The chief government spokesperson told the Committee that the fund is going to be used to service the areas where service providers do not find it “economically feasible to proceed…So there is a fund for that purpose.”

Harmon was quick to point out that there are communities across Guyana that are currently un-served by any telecommunications provider while at the same time they are not considered indigenous communities.

As such, the legislation provides for “un-served areas.”

According to Harmon the telecoms fund will be used to target, “wherever you have un-served communities that do not have the benefit of telecommunication services…where the telecommunications provider do not consider it economically feasible to carry the services there, this is what that fund will be used for.”

He said, ultimately it is expected that Guyana will, as a result, have blanket coverage for telecommunication services, using regular service providers, in addition to the government initiative.

He said the initiative is also directly related to the development of Guyana’s hinterland in order to “provide a better level of information technology to those communities.”

Harmon, at the time also sought to defend the use of money from GRIF to fund ICT initiatives in hinterland regions, as against having to wait until moneys begin flowing into the Telecoms fund.

“We believe that our hinterland brothers and sisters are entitled…we don’t believe that we can postpone the development of these communities in any way by waiting on what is going to come in.”

Government, according to Harmon, has already committed itself to utilising money already available through GRIF , to roll out the hinterland ICT projects.