Digicel’s Guyana-Suriname link: Govt asks GT&T to prove it can provide high quality data

Last Updated on Monday, 27 March 2017, 10:48 by Denis Chabrol

Kevin Kelly, Digicel Guyana CEO

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications on Sunday said it has asked the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) to prove that it can fully satisfy the country’s demands for data before Digicel’s data link between Guyana and Suriname is discontinued.

“GT&T has been invited to submit relevant information and data to clearly demonstrate that they have the network capacity to ensure that the people for Guyana will not be adversely affected by discontinuance of the Digicel link to Suriname,” the ministry said in a statement.

Efforts to obtain a comment from Digicel  on Sunday were not immediately successful.

Government’s position was made clear less than one day after GTT issued a statement to selected sections of the media, calling on government to probe what it termed Digicel’s “illegal, unlicensesd” cross-border Guyana-Suriname link. GT&T charged that it has lost as much as US$40 million to GYD$50 million through the link that facilitates inbound and outbound international calls. The phone company alleged that as a result, Digicel has not paid up at least US$30 million to the treasury during the past five years.

Saying the Ministry of Public Telecommunications has been actively engaging the two phone companies concerning’s GT&T’s claims of unlicensed transmission of voice and data traffic by Digicel grounded in GT&T’s claims to exclusivity over all international transmissions by any means whatsoever, the ministry said the matter would ultimately be resolved in the interest of subscribers.

GTT’s Chief Executive Officer, Justin Nedd.

“The intention of the Ministry is to arrive at a resolution that will be in the best interests of the people of Guyana,” the Public Telecommunications Ministry said.

The Guyana government said the decision on this “complex matter” would rest on “whether GT&T has sufficient data capacity to meet the needs of the market and the degree of congestion on its network,” at a time of demands of the market for adequate voice and data services.

Against the background of GT&T’s long-held position that it has a monopoly on international voice and data, the Public Telecommunications Ministry stressed the need for license holders to provide the required quality of service. “While the Government is committed to ensuring that applicable licence terms and conditions are  honoured, we must similarly ensure that relevant obligations in the licences that provide for adequate service are met, and also that the needs of the people are met.”

The Ministry said it stance of ensuring that the public gets high quality voice and data for business, learning and many other activities of life “does not mean that the Government is in any way eager to condone this activity.”

The Ministry says it is keenly aware that increased investment and greater network capacity is needed to meet the demands of consumers, and that a fully liberalised and competitive sector will prevent the resurgence of claims such as these.

GT&T said the same government that has conducted a number of audits to ensure transparency and accountability should probe Digicel’s alleged illegal telephony operations in violation of Guyana’s laws, its license and possibly to the significant detriment of Guyana’s economy.

“The fact of the matter is, Guyanese citizens are arrested for significantly smaller transgressions than what Digicel has been doing for at least the last five years… so now, we must insist on action. Action that produces transparency and finally sheds a bright light on this dark activity that Digicel has been conducting. Action that shows whether the company has failed in its duty to pay a fair share of taxes on the revenue it has reaped from this activity. And action to hold Digicel accountable for its illegal operations and its ill-gotten financial gain,” GTT said.

GT&T cited the need for equity and transparency as key ingredients in a liberalised telecommunications sector.