Antigua: Digicel challenges spectrum confiscation in court

Last Updated on Friday, 31 May 2019, 21:15 by Writer

Friday 31st May 2019 – St. John’s, Antigua. In a bid to shield its customers in Antigua & Barbuda from significant service disruption and a negative impact on coverage, Digicel on Thursday secured a court order against the Government of Antigua & Barbuda.

The Court order prevents the Government from confiscating any of the 850 MHz spectrum which Digicel has been lawfully allocated to deliver its communications services to customers and giving it to APUA (Antigua Public Utilities Authority) to use for its LTE (Long-Term Evolution) service – while also providing the necessary time for the Courts to examine the fairness and legality of the Government’s decision. Digicel has used this spectrum to deliver its services to the people of Antigua and Barbuda since 2006.

Digicel says it was forced into this legal challenge to protect its customers and services from being put in jeopardy on foot of the Government of Antigua & Barbuda’s anti-competitive and protectionist decision handed down to Digicel on 8th May that Digicel be compelled to return a significant portion of its 850 MHz spectrum by 31st May under what the Government misleadingly describes as a move towards “equitable distribution” of the spectrum.

“The Government’s confiscation of the spectrum to the sole benefit of APUA and the detriment of Digicel’s customers would result in half of Digicel’s customer base experiencing significant mobile service disruption – not to mention the broader negative impact on emergency services and other essential services like point of sale terminals and home security systems – for a period of at least 18 months, since that is the time it would take Digicel to completely rebuild its network at a cost of at least US$25 million,” the Pan Caribbean mobile phone operator said.

Digicel adds that with almost twice as much spectrum as either of the other two operators in the market – despite having less than 25% market share – APUA is hoarding a scarce and valuable resource. In any other market, this would be a cause for concern for the regulator,but uniquely in Antigua & Barbuda, APUA is also the Regulator, and hence holds the roles of both “referee and player” allowing for protectionist and anti-competitive behaviour to run amok.

In addition, Digicel notes that APUA is well able to operate a quality LTE network with the spectrum it already has; a fact Digicel can attest to since it operate its LTE networks to a high standard in a similar spectrum environment in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, as do other operators within the Caribbean region.

CEO of Digicel Antigua & Barbuda, Dwayne Tulloch, explains: “As a champion of competition in the telecoms industry worldwide, we fully support theGovernment of Antigua & Barbuda’s stated policy of growth and development of the telecommunications sector. But this is not the way to go about it. There are many other ways of achieving this objective as have been demonstrated in other countries like tower sharing, national roaming, technically superior handsets and devices, to name but a few.”

He continues; “This is a unilateral breach of good faith – the very basis on which Digicel entered the market in 2006. APUA does not need our spectrum; since it has plenty of its own which it doesn’t even use. As such, the Government’s decision is an attack on our customers and an attack on our business and risks setting back the telecommunications sector in Antigua & Barbuda by years.”

He concludes; “We simply want to be able to deliver the best service to our customers to the benefit of all Antiguans and Barbudans. If that means fighting for our customers and for fair and healthy competition – then so be it; we will defend our customers and our business vigorously.  As we challenge this decision in the courts, I can assure our customers that they will not experience any service disruption from Digicel at this time.”