Guyana one step closer to liberalised Telecoms sector
Government moved one step closer to breaking the monopoly held by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) when it began a debate on the Telecommunications Bill, and had it sent to Special Select Committee for further consideration.
The amendments to the legislation were piloted by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who told the House that he is optimistic that the work of the committee would be expeditiously completed so that come January 2, Guyana will be operating under a new telecommunications regime.
Prime Minister Sam Hinds
Upon enactment of the Law, not only will the monopoly be broken, but four licences will automatically be handed out to additional telecommunications companies – E-Networks, Quark Communications Inc, Nexlink Communications Inc. and Inet Communications Inc.
The related amendments to the Public Utilities Commission Bill were also sent to the same committee for further consultations.
While supporting the move for a liberalised telecommunications sector, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC) expressed grave concerns over a number of aspects of the Bill, including the powers reposed in the subject Minister.
Prime Minister Hinds in presenting the Bill for a debate told the House that the intention is to open up the market to competition as well as to create a Telecommunications Agency that will monitor the sector. He said that Government wants to create a regime to be fair and attractive to new entrants, large or small.
Calling the Bill a landmark piece of legislation some 20 years in the making, the Prime Minister told the House it will place Guyana in the League of Nations with modern legislation in the provision of telecommunication services.
Guyana, he said, is not far behind the developed world in terms of technology. He added that with the legislation in place “we can expect that this new competitive regime will give more play to the initiative, innovation and ingenuity of our people so that they could experiment and create hybrid systems which we think will rapidly evolve to arrangements which are appropriate to our geographic, demographic and economic circumstances.”
He said too that even though government is late in moving ahead with the legislation, it will allow Guyana to meet the growing demand for various types of data intensive and video services.
“The demands are such that we see the need to urgently move to an open sector, where investors are encouraged to build networks deploying new technologies including 3G and 4G, High Speed Packet Systems, Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems and Long Term Evolutions networks, providing a mix of voice and data intensive services.
Hinds informed the House that the delays that held up the Bill were in large part due to several objections and concerns by GT&T, one such being Government’s proposal to land a fibre optic cable in Guyana.
He said that this was done, taking into account the early stage of development in Guyana, hence the intervention and investments in the cable, the one laptop per family programme, as well as the stringing of a cable along the coast to improve connectivity from Moleson Creek all the way to Anna Regina.
Trevor Williams of the AFC, in his contribution to the debate in the House, said that his party is supportive of sending the Bill to the Select Committee because of its complexity and its disagreement with certain aspects of the Bill.
One such objection that Williams drew reference to was the creation of a fund to supply areas with telecommunication services, where it might not be economically viable for private operators.
According to Williams, Guyana is already saturated when it comes to coverage, and invariably, when monies are collected it will not be spent to service un-served areas. The AFC is also wary of another ‘slush fund being created.”
Williams said that competition in the market will ultimately mean that the customers will benefit, but while Government was looking to break the monopoly, it was also monopolising power in the hands of the Prime Minister.
According to Williams, there is no reference in the proposed law to the Minister operating in a non-discriminatory manner.
“AFC, like all Guyana, welcomes the liberalisation…Time has long come for this sector to be liberalised, but the select committee must receive submissions from all stakeholders.”
Carl Greenidge, who contributed to the debate for APNU, also questioned the powers being ascribed to the Minister in the proposed law. He said, too, that his party supports sending the Bill to a Select Committee, given that there are a range of issues in it that warrant attention.
Telecommunications is a complicated area, Greenidge stressed, while stating that the framework to be put in place must be flexible. He said that another area in the proposed legislation which presents a possible conflict of interest is the fact that Government through its fibre optic cable network will be a player in the sector while it will also be the regulator. This, Greenidge noted, will need to be addressed at the level of the Select Committee.
In criticising the wording of the legislation, Greenidge said “we shouldn’t give powers to Ministers and have lack of clarity between functions of the politicians and the agencies under them.”
He was speaking to the fact that the Minister is the one who is required to carry out functions such as issuing or denying licences rather than the Telecommunications Agency.
Greenidge said that in looking at the draft Bill, considerable focus lies in raising revenue rather than managing the sector.
“Due to the complexity and the areas that need attention, we should do as good a job as we can before enacting the legislation,” Greenidge said in supporting a call for the Bill to be committed to a Select Committee.