After much anticipation and expectation, Government has finally taken the Telecommunication and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Bills to the National Assembly.
The Bills were tabled by Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes on Tuesday. They were read for the first time.
Earlier this month, Minister Hughes told Guyana Times that she intended to have the proposed legislation presented to the National Assembly before the end of the month. However, at the time, the Bills were with the Attorney General (AG) Chambers for legal vetting.
The Bills were then handed to Cabinet for final review before presentation to Parliament. GTT currently holds a 20-year plus monopoly over the telecommunication sector and stakeholders, particularly Digicel, have long been calling for this control of the telecoms market to be broken.
The Telecoms Bill, which was first introduced in 2011 and revised in 2013, was with a Special Select Committee in the 10th Parliament and was near conclusion when Parliament was prorogued in 2014. The Bill is among 12 others that were recalled in the 11th Parliament.
Meanwhile, under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration, the Telecoms Bill underwent a new set of consultations with the two main players in mobile service and other stakeholders including the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and several Non-Governmental Organisations before it was submitted to Cabinet for review.
Government had even appointed two overseas consultants – Janice Brendman and Geeta Ragubir – to complete the work on the Bill. The Telecommunications Bill seeks to create a competitive regime in the telecommunications sector. It provides for an open, liberalised and competitive sector that will be attractive to new market entrants and investors, while preserving the activities of the current participants.
By creating this competitive environment for telecommunications, the Bill is expected to result in greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers. The Bill also specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunication networks and services into unserved and under-served areas, through the institution of a new universal access/universal service programme, in an effort to further national and regional social and economic development.
At the launch of Digicel’s 4G Internet service earlier this month in Bartica, the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kevin Kelly urged the immediate passage of the Bill, noting that a liberalised telecommunications sector in the country will stimulate competition, which will in turn result in better services for customers.
Kelly added that once the Telecommunications Liberalisation Bill passes, Digicel will take immediate steps to introduce cheaper services such as Internet rates and international calls as well as the possibility of landline services.
Meanwhile, in a more recent interview with Guyana Times, CEO of GTT Justin Nedd said his company is ready to relinquish its hold on the telecoms sector. He pointed out that this will provide a level playing field for all the players in the sector. “I believe that the sector is already liberalised, though not formally, but once the Bill is passed and assented to law, everybody will have to play by the same rules, report to the same regulator, pay the same taxes and I believe we are ready for that because we have been doing it for decades,” the CEO stated.
When asked about the impending competition that will follows the break of the 20-plus year monopoly that the company has over the sector, Nedd posited that GTT has been competing with its main opponent Digicel for several years on many fronts and so customers can expect only better things.