Digicel takes Suriname telecoms regulator to court over severed data link with Guyana

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 October 2018, 14:20 by Denis Chabrol

Reproduced from Irish Times

Digicel, the mobile phone operator owned by Denis O’Brien, has launched legal action against the telco regulator in the former Dutch colony of Suriname for blocking its cross-border data link with Digicel in neighbouring Guyana.

Last week, the Telecommunications Authority Suriname (TAS) shut down the allegedly illegal microwave link, which Digicel used to feed data capacity to its unit in Guyana. It caused significant data outages for Digicel’s customers there.

TAS appears to made its move under pressure from authorities in Guyana, where Digicel’s rival is Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT). GTT has long complained that Digicel should be forced to buy its data capacity from its rival instead of feeding it over the border, presumably for less cost.

GTT, which is partially state-owned, has previously alleged that Digicel has deprived Guyana of $30 million in lost charges by bypassing its network. It claims the link is illegal. Digicel has denied those claims.

GTT confirmed to local media that it complained about Digicel’s cross-border link to the Guyana government, which presumably passed those concerns on to its counterparts in Suriname. Local media also reported that GTT threatened legal action against the Suriname authorities if they did not act.

Contacted by The Irish Times, Digicel said it is taking court action: “Digicel disputes any allegations of illegality and as the matter is currently before the court, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”

It is understood Digicel is seeking an injunction to force TAS to reverse its actions. A ruling is expected soon, possibly next week.

The Dutch-speaking nation of Suriname and Guyana, which have populations of 500,000 and 700,000 respectively, are two of Digicel’s only three markets in South America, the other being French Guyana next door.

It also has significant operations in Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific region, with about 14 million subscribers. It is currently seeking to raise $500 million in asset sales and also conclude a bond swap deal to help it ease the burden of its $6.7 billion debt pile.