“We remain of the opinion that liberalisation of Guyana’s telecommunications sector is long overdue. We think a timetable for negotiations with definite deadlines is necessary to finally end the monopoly,” says Digicel’s Chief Executive Officer Gregory Dean, with what appears to be a note of greater urgency in his disposition.
Up until now Digicel has sought to put a brave face on what has been more than a year of frustration over the non realisation of legislation that will allow it a share of the lucrative overseas market for telecommunications services currently enjoyed by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T). There is, however, no mistaking the company’s mounting frustration over what it has repeatedly said is the inexplicable delay in bringing an end to the monopoly.
Digicel’s feelings on its continued exclusion from what is in effect the lion’s share of the country’s telecommunications market is articulated by Dean with as much restraint as he could muster. “We are highly disappointed with the status of the telecommunications sector. It has been almost six years since we entered the market and we are still awaiting full liberalisation of the sector,” he says.
It is, it seems, as much the government’s silence on the failure to take the bill to the National Assembly as the long delay in the expected passage of the legislation that irks Digicel. Dean concedes that the company had been wrong-footed by the unfolding events in the liberalisation saga under this current administration. “We were under the impression that liberalisation of the telecommunications sector would have been a priority of the new parliament post elections and we made preparations for this. Unfortunately, this was not the case and so we are further set back,” Dean says. It is as close as Dean comes to pointing an accusing finger.
While Dean has been mindful not to make pronouncements that overtly point fingers at the government for the delay in the passage of the liberalisation legislation he concedes that Digicel is both “baffled” and “highly disappointed with the status of the telecommunications sector,” since “everyone is aware of the benefits of liberalisation and has seen the tremendous gains of competition in the domestic cellular market since Digicel’s entry in 2007.” These, he says, “include 50% reduction in domestic call rates, ending of account activation fees, reduction in handset prices as well as an improvement in the quality and range of handsets available and an increase in the products and services offered.”
Dean says he fears the retention of the monopoly could “prevent current and even future investors from making long-term plans” though he says that the bigger issue is a Guyanese one. “Communications is one of the main drivers of development in any country. Access to communication and advanced technology and lower rates are only two of the benefits of a liberalised telecommunications sector. Given the population spread and economic activities throughout Guyana, communication is even more necessary.” As for what, as far as Digicel knows, is the latest official position on liberalisation Dean confines his response to pointing out that Digicel has again been asked to comment on the legislation and that its comments had been “in line with comments from consultations held for the past two to three years.” If he knows more he isn’t saying. Nor does he, this time around, seek to conceal the fact that while the company has been marking time, its patience may be wearing thin.
Dean believes that after five years Digicel has more than earned the right to a level playing field in the local telecommunications sector. Given what Dean says has been Digicel’s commitment to Guyana he declares that the company is “highly disappointed” with the status of the telecommunications sector.