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GTT, govt at odds over calls for audit of Digicel’s “alleged” illegal bypass

Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes

Government on Tuesday downplayed calls by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) for an audit of Digicel’s allegedly illegal bypass operation that might have cost the national treasury more than US$30 million.

Instead, Public Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes suggested that GTT could also be cited for breach of contract as far as improving its landline service.

“I  have no objections to an audit but there are other issues and the main issue is the fact that GT&T does not have service in many areas. The issue is also that GT&T has not provided, as their agreement stipulates, for the last ten years proper landline service to many communities so at the end of the day it may sound easy to tie this to one specific issue and that is the alleged illegality of Digicel not connecting through GTT,” Hughes told Demerara Waves Online News.

The phone company has in the past argued that it needs higher landline rates to compensate for a huge decline in revenues due to the proliferation of data services and Voice of Internet Protocol / over-the-top services such as Skype and WhatsApp.

She said after an eight-month wait, at her insistence, it was only last month that GTT responded to Digicel with an interconnection rate.

Hughes said despite repeated calls in public and in board room discussions, GTT has failed to prove to government that it has sufficient capacity to satisfy Guyana’s data needs. “We have responded and asked GTT to show us their capacity and GTT has not done that yet to us and at the end of the day, we don’t really want to look back,” she said.

In apparent reaction to Hughes’ previous public call for that landline, mobile voice and data provider to show that it can satisfy Guyana’s data needs, GTT confined its assurance to international service. “As the record shows, GTT operates a reliable international service that contributes to the economy, employs over 600 Guyana workers and has the capacity to handle all of our country’s overseas traffic,” the telecoms provider said.

GTT repeated its accusations that Digicel has not been paying its fair share of taxes on revenue earned by way of a hitherto secret and illegal bypass that has been acknowledged by Digicel and confirmed by government. On the other hand, GTT said it paid US$45 million in taxes over the last 5 years.

Remarking that “the public deserves full transparency and action by our leaders,” GTT said “we therefore again call for Digicel’s bypass operation to be audited by an independent and trusted organization.” “The public needs to know if Digicel has in fact robbed our country of badly needed revenues by failing in its obligation to pay such a large sum.”

The Public Telecommunications Minister said  her responsibility is to the people of Guyana and she was not prepared to order Digicel to cease serving a number of locations where it is the lone provider. “I take personal responsibility for the fact that i am not prepared at this point in time to say to those individuals, especially those in the hinterland and remote communities, that they don’t have telephone service,” she said.

Citing differences in its capacity, GTT said its system is built to handle more than 70 Gbps capacity – exceeding the capacity needed to handle all international traffic by more than 50% but it is currently operating well below capacity. At the same time, Digicel’s capacity is estimated at less than 3 Gbps.

GTT also boasted that it has redundant paths to internet via subsea fibre optics and is building a world class fibre to the home throughout 2017, while Digicel’s quality is “likely subpar”.