Telecoms Bill only first step towards liberalisation – Guyana’s phone companies

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 July 2016, 13:59 by Denis Chabrol

The two main phone companies say they are now awaiting government’s next move to end the telephone monopoly, with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) saying it wants its contract with the Guyana government honoured.

Chief Executive Officer of Digicel (Guyana) Limited, Kevin Kelly said in a brief comment that the passage of the Telecommunications Bill by the National Assembly is the first step in the long overdue ending of the telephone monopoly but that “laudable achievement” was merely the first step.

“Digicel will now await engagement with the Government to discuss our license and regulations for an open competitive sector. We believe this will create a competitive sector and will result in many benefits in terms of new and improved services for the people of Guyana,” Kelly said in a statement.

For his part, the Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT), Justin Nedd said his phone company was “all for” opening the market but that could only be done if the telecommunications provider and government to “work out some negotiations.” Asked whether the negotiations would include GTT’s desire for tax waivers, he maintained “we are in negotiations and I am not at liberty to discuss this.”

Nedd promised that with liberalization GTT would be offering more Internet and faster services. “Businesses need predictability so once we have a predictable environment we could focus on driving the business, providing good service to the customer and getting things done right,” he said. He explained that it was necessary for foreign direct investors who have contracts with the Guyana government to be assured that they would be honoured.

He appealed for patience while pledging that a comprehensive announcement would be made about service improvements.

He, however, side-stepped key questions about the degraded quality of its 3G/4G service that was launched two months ago. “With the 4G service it was introduced in May- two weeks notice- so we are still working out deployment of more services and working out some teething problems,” he said, adding that 4G was separate from liberalization.

He also sought to separate liberalization from cost-cutting measures even when it was pointed out to him that the company had previously indicated that other free-calling VOIP options was resulting in a decline in traditional phone revenues.

Nedd instead insisted that the news conference was called to address the recent National Assembly approval of a modern Telecommunications Bill that will pave the way for a legal end to GTT’s monopoly. However, he repeatedly avoided questions about aspects of the 1990 Agreement between the Guyana government and its parent company Atlantic Tele Network (ATN) that need to be negotiated.

The GTT CEO also opted to be evasive when asked whether he believed that there should be a mechanism for subscribers to complain to about deteriorated quality of mobile and landline data.

In terms of the less than satisfactory 3G/4G quality, Nedd would only say that the phone company switched on the service in two weeks instead of the required nine months and that work was ongoing overall.

He refused to say whether GTT had failed to prepare in advance of government’s approval to offer higher data speeds in time for Guyana’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations in May, 2016.