The liberalisation of the telecommunications sector came within weeks of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) ascension to office and now a wider plan is being scoped in developing a masterplan for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the country.
This was according to Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo during a recent Private Sector event, where he noted that an aggressive approach has been undertaken to achieve this goal. The idea is to work on policies now that the long-awaited liberalisation has reached fruition.
“We’re now working on a series of policy-related issues to give effect to the legislation that brought about liberalisation. So, you’re going to see a major shift in this regard…Parallel to that, we are working on a masterplan for ICT for the country and in that, a serious virtual module for the education sector. This is a set of reforms that are worked on aggressively in the Government,” the Vice President noted.
According to him, these efforts are geared at lowering costs while improving the quality of service offered to the Guyanese people. For this, the PPP/C Administration has looked at incentivising companies to make investments and also approving as many new entities to join the market – thereby growing competition.
Jagdeo asserted, “We want higher quality services, that is higher bandwidth…We want it urgently. We’re going to incentivise the company to make the investment to get there. We want the cost to come down. That is why we have decided to license anyone who wants to bring in and operate a new subsea fibreoptic cable…We believe the more access or more cables that are terminated here will push down the cost of bandwidth to our people.”
Government has been proactive in working with stakeholders in the diffusion of ICT across all sectors and regions of Guyana as a means of economic and social empowerment for Guyanese. Against this backdrop, the 2021 budget proposes the removal of VAT on data for residential and individual use.
This year, the Universality Fund will be established – a feature of the new telecommunication’s regulatory regime through which access to modern telecommunications services can be funded for our poor and vulnerable communities including those in our hinterland regions.
The Telecommunications Act and regulations provide for contributions to this fund from operators and it is expected that a minimum of $360 million will be made available to the fund this year. A plan is being prepared that will specify feasible projects to be implemented by the Private Sector which will boost connectivity for businesses in unserved and underserved communities.
Last October, Prime Minister Mark Phillips, who is the subject Minister with responsibility for Telecommunications, had announced that Government issued Commencement Orders, fully bringing into force the Telecommunications Act 2016 (the “Act”) and the Public Utilities Commission Act 2016.
It would afford Guyana to align its telecommunications regime to those found in other countries in the world, including most Caribbean countries, ending a 30-year-old anti-competitive telecommunications monopoly, that had “left Guyanese weary, frustrated and lagging behind in the telecommunications arena.”
The legislation creates a “clear, harmonised framework and a level playing field for the sector that is currently lacking, and which are characterised by 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, and price regulation where required to ensure competition and at the same time guarantees equal treatment of stakeholders, to the ultimate benefit and protection of consumers.”
The Telecommunications Act 2016 was first laid by the Government in the 9th Parliament in August 2011, and laid again in the 10th Parliament in 2012, after extensive consultations with both the public and operators. During the life of both Parliaments, the Act enjoyed commendable bipartisan support. It spent considerable time before a select committee, chaired by Carl Greenidge, and included Former Prime Minister Samuels Hinds, and then Minister Mohamed Irfaan Ali.
The Act was finalised before the 2015 elections and was enacted by the coalition Government in 2016 by Minister Catherine Hughes, again with bipartisan support.
“It must be emphasised that these legislation straddled Administrations, and were the subject of extensive negotiations with stakeholders which lasted nearly a decade,” the Prime Minister had said, adding that 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.”