…if Digicel’s Suriname bypass link be discontinued
Government has asked the telephone giant GTT to prove it has the capacity to meet the needs of most Guyanese, should there be a discontinuance of the Digicel link to Suriname.
GTT recently complained that this bypass was “illegal”, and called on the
Government to immediately launch an independent audit into this trans-border link, although same has been active for more than five years.
Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes on Sunday explained that the matter has been engaging Government’s attention. She said the Telecommunications Ministry has been in active discussion with both service provides on the matter of the unlicensed transmission of voice and data traffic by Digicel, grounded in GTT’s claims to exclusivity over all international transmissions. Hughes said her intention is to arrive at a resolution that would be in the best interest of the people of Guyana.
However, she said Government’s approach to the matter should not be misconstrued to mean that is condones acts of illegality. “This has proven to be a complex matter, exacerbated by demands of the market for adequate voice and data services. Among the issues to be considered are whether GTT has sufficient data capacity to meet the needs of the market, and the degree of congestion of its network. GTT has been invited to submit relevant information and data to clearly demonstrate that (it has) the network capacity to ensure that the people for Guyana will not be adversely affected by discontinuance of the Digicel link to Suriname,” she explained in her statement.
The Minister emphasised: “This does not mean that the Government is in any way eager to condone this activity, but in this age of such high dependence on telecommunications and the Internet for the conduct of business, learning and many activities of life, we must be satisfied that there is adequate communications available for the people.”
Hughes said that while the Government is committed to ensuring that applicable license terms and conditions are honoured, it must similarly ensure that relevant obligations in the licences that provide for adequate service are met, and also that the needs of the people are met. “The Ministry is keenly aware that increased investment and greater network capacity (are) needed to meet the demands of consumers,” she stated.
According to Hughes, the Ministry believes that a fully liberalised and competitive sector would prevent the resurgence of claims such as those made by GTT.
However, Digicel in a statement on Sunday said that it notes GTT’s most recent statements to the press in which allegations were made in relation to the conduct of “illegal” activities by Digicel.
Digicel said that it considers these statements to be yet another irresponsible attempt by GTT to deflect from the material issues that have now been brought to bear upon the company by the onset of liberalisation in Guyana.
“Digicel wishes to state that any question of the illegality of any conduct on the part of Digicel and as to the services that Digicel can properly provide to the public can only be determined upon the judicial construction of the respective licences of both Digicel and GTT and upon consideration of all the relevant facts. At present there are matters before the court in which the court is called upon to make determinations in relation to the same issues.
One such matter is the Constitutional Motion filed by Digicel against GTT in which Digicel challenges the fundamental legality of GTT’s authorisations to operate in Guyana and the extent to which these run counter to the tenets of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana. It is Digicel’s view that it is only when the court has ruled on these fundamental legal principles can any determination be made in relation to legality.
GTT said on Saturday that the Digicel bypass is causing significant harm to Guyana, financially.
“With liberalisation on the horizon, the practice of equity and transparent conduct of all players is of paramount importance. It is essential that both the public and our leaders have the complete details about Digicel’s bypass operations, and that they understand the full consequences of the company’s actions, which are illegal and in direct violation of their licence,” GTT said in a release to the media.
GTT is also calling for Digicel Guyana to release documentation to show where it has made tax payments on the revenue generated by the ‘illegal’ bypass operations. This, it stated, will determine whether or not the company has failed to pay some US$30 million to the Guyana Treasury for the past five years.
Apart from the loss of taxes, valuable spectrum is being used by Digicel Guyana, GTT contends. “We all have a right to know whether this spectrum has in fact been stolen by Digicel,” the release stated.
Only last Tuesday, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a hearing to determine whether GTT’s promotions are anti-competitive, as claimed by Digicel Guyana. As a result of that hearing, it has since been determined that an assessment of the services will be conducted. This is according to Chairman of the PUC, Justice Prem Persaud. The promotion in question is the “GET MORE PAY LESS” promotion.