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Digicel blames gov’t for “dark ages” telecoms sector, as GTT celebrates 29 years

A day after the Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, boasted of improved Internet access, Digicel Guyana used results of a petition to lampoon the administration for foot-dragging on liberalising the telecoms sector to coincide with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company’s (GTT) 29-year-old monopoly.

“With Guyana stuck in the telecoms dark ages, liberalisation must happen immediately to give Guyana the internet it deserves. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Digicel said.

GTT, which wanted a US$44-million tax debt settled before moving ahead with liberalisation, last year May signed a secret memorandum of understanding with government committing both sides to settling all outstanding issues.

Hughes, in her address to a 2020 election rally for the governing A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) at New Amsterdam on Sunday, highlighted that smart classrooms have been created and of the 175 information and communications technology  (ICT) hubs, 54 are in east and west Berbice.

“I know you understand why we doing this internet thing because guess what? You could take your child or as an adult you can use the free internet. Your child go to a hub and there are all the textbooks for the Ministry of Education on all those computers,” she said. The public telecommunications minister said parents could take their children to the ICT hubs to read books, conduct research and do schoolwork.”You don’t have to go to any internet place and pay 500 for half hour, you are benefitting right here,” Hughes said.

She noted that government has started putting more than 200 government services online. She criticised the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP), while in government, of squandering GYD$2 billion on a now destroyed fibre optic cable from Brazil near Lethem to the coast.

Hughes gave no indication of when the telecoms sector would be liberalised, but the PPP has been promising to do so and facilitate the landing of more fibre optic cables to help reduce the cost and improve the quality of Internet access.

With the legislation ending the telephone monopoly passed over three years ago by Parliament in July, 2016, and assented to by the President, Digicel said there is still no progress since the legislation has not been made law because the minister has to issue a commencement order.

Digicel declared that, “the people of Guyana are tired of poor, unreliable broadband services and remote communities not being able to realise the dream of modern communications in their homes and are fed up of limited choice and not having the benefits of true competition.”

Digicel says its campaign shows that more than 4,000 persons signed an online petition, 52,000 views of an accompanying campaign video on YouTube, 2,086 followers on a campaign Facebook page whose posts have reached 654,990 since the start of campaign and 16,725 engagements on the Facebook page with people actively commenting and sharing posts to show their support for breaking the monopoly and liberalising the telecom industry.

CEO of Digicel Guyana, Gregory Dean welcomed the petition. “The response to the petition clearly shows that Guyanese are sick of being left behind and missing out on the opportunities that come with a digital economy. Guyanese are calling on all our leaders to take the necessary steps to eliminate the monopoly immediately and liberalise our telecommunications market so that other companies can roll out the services that Guyanese have waited far too long for. I encourage everyone to get on board with this movement by signing the petition before February 8th and show that the will of the people cannot be denied.”

Release of the figures coincided with GTT’s 29th anniversary. “Being in operation for 29 years is certainly a milestone to achieve. We have, and will continue to evolve with our homeland, confident that as a mature entity with sound backing, we can support our continued national growth,” GTT’s Chief Executive Officer, Justin Nedd was quoted as saying.

Digicel said bringing Guyana’s communications into the 21st century won’t just improve lives. “It’s essential to developing the economy – especially now that oil production has begun with the first million barrels recently sold. As things stand, Guyana’s communication services are nowhere near ready to take full advantage of this development.”

Digicel also criticised GTT for failing to achieve universal landline coverage it was promised when the monopoly went into effect almost three decades ago. With a commitment to have telephone service in the home of every Guyanese, today less than 120,000 subscribers have been provided with what is at best a mediocre service, Digicel added.

“If landline service has long been underwhelming, Guyana’s broadband service is even worse. Fibre optic service can be found in limited pockets in Georgetown and some surrounding communities, while DSL has slowly crept across the country on poorly maintained copper networks. It’s simply not good enough,” Digicel said.

GTT has in the past profiled its submarine fibre-optic link as a major achievement in providing improved Internet service.