BREAKING: Guyana’s telecoms sector formally liberalised, way cleared for lower prices for phone, Internet services

Last Updated on Monday, 5 October 2020, 23:25 by Denis Chabrol

Prime  Minister Mark Phillips late Monday night announced that Guyana formally broke the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph’s 30-year old monopoly on international voice and data, paving the way for fierce competition in the telecoms market ranging from cheaper phone calls to higher quality Internet and several other related services.

“It is anticipated that Guyanese will feel an immediate positive impact from the implementation of these legislation, which create a modern and competitive environment for telecommunications, and which will immediately result in greater choices, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers, while at the same time ensuring that all operators continue to enjoy all benefits conferred under the old legislative regime,” he said.

The Prime Minister said government has issued Commencement Orders fully bringing into force the Telecommunications Act 2016 and the Public Utilities Commission Act 2016. He did not mention what were the issues that had to be resolved before this step was taken.

He explained that the legislation specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunications networks and services into unserved and underserved areas through the institution of a new universal access/universal services programme.

Mr. Phillips said government would ensure that the “existing operators suffer no disadvantage whatsoever as they continue business in the sector.” He thanked all those involved, who were able to quickly simplify and deliver the complex task of liberalisation in the short time assigned.

Modern legislation, the Telecommunications Act, was enacted in 2016 but the minister did not sign the commencement order to bring it into force because negotiations with GTT were not finished. In fact, GTT and the Guyana government had signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to settle all outstanding issues before signing a binding agreement.

Retired Brigadier Phillips said the legislation creates a clear, harmonised framework and a level playing field for the sector “that is currently lacking.” He indicated that Guyanese as well as investors in the industry could now expect transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licences and authorisations to use the spectrum, seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks and services.

He said prices would be regulated where required to ensure competition and at the same time guarantee equal treatment of stakeholders, to the ultimate benefit and protection of consumers.

The Prime Minister chided the then governing A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) for delaying the liberalisation process although the legislation had enjoyed bipartisan support since it had been first drafted in 2015. “Although the benefits of the Act were well known to the APNU/AFC Coalition, for some inexplicable reason in 2018 and again in 2019, APNU/AFC only brought a few sections of the Act into force, frustrating the intent and objective of the Act by denying Guyanese the benefits flowing therefrom,” he said.

He promised that the Guyana government was ready to work with all stakeholders to ensure that every Guyanese has affordable access to quality and modern services “which they so badly deserve.”

When the American-owned Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) had bought out 80 percent controlling interest in the then state-owned Guyana Telecommunications Corporation (GTC) in 1990 and formed GTT, it had secured a 20-year monopoly on international voice and data. However, with the advent of the Internet and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services such as Skype, Vonage and more recently WhatsApp and other messaging services, the monopoly was in reality a thing of the past.

While several satellite-based Internet Service Providers have mushroomed in recent years, GTT had insisted that its mobile competitor, Digicel Guyana, must use its Internet Service to resell subscribers. Digicel had at one time ignored that agreement and had accessed data through a wireless link from neighbouring Suriname.

E-Networks, which landed a submarine fibre-optic cable here several months ago, has also been offering wireless Internet to Guyanese customers.