No respite in war of words over GT&T monopoly

In a move that points unerringly to DIGICEL’s determination to sustain its public criticism of the monopoly on international voice and data traffic held by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company, Chief Executive Officer of the local DIGICEL operations Mark Linehan told media representatives on Tuesday that the monopoly continued to serve as a disincentive to investment in the Guyana economy.

Linehan’s criticism of the GT&T monopoly comes two weeks after DIGICEL Chairman and Founder Dennis O’Brien used an exclusive interview with the Stabroek Business to call for an end to GT&T’s control of Guyana’s international telecommunication services.

Asked whether DIGICEL would continue to push publicly for an early end to the monopoly Linehan would only say that an end to GT&T’s control of Guyana’s international voice and data traffic couldn’t come soon enough for the country.

Linehan told reporters that the GT&T monopoly was also affecting DIGICEL’s ability to provide “value for international calls.” He said that DIGICEL was in a position to activate its own US$1.2m Mandela Avenue Earth Station to provide a quality international service within an hour of the end of the GT&T monopoly. “We have shown our complete readiness for international services. Indeed, our readiness was tested twice in May when the Americas 11 Cable was ruptured and Guyana was cut off from all international voice and data traffic,” Linehan said.

However, in an article prepared by GT&T titled “putting monopoly service provision in perspective” ( a part of which is published in this issue of Stabroek Business) the company accused DIGICEL of either not understanding or ignoring the nature of the GT&T license. ” Our detractors either do not know or choose to forget that GT&T’s operating license is designed to have the international business subsidize the provision of local services,” the article says, adding that “it is sometimes easy to forget that Guyana’s citizens have benefitted for many years from local telephone rates that are much lower than the rates paid by subscribers in other Caribbean nations.”

In his address Linehan charged that GT&T was holding the cost of international calls “abnormally high” to support “the super abnormal profits” that the company was making, adding that GT&T had made over 1 billion USD in international calls since 1992.

In its article GT&T has stated that the ‘subsidy policy” which the company had pursued in Guyana had not only provided universal service in the country but had allowed the company to become a net earner of foreign exchange with which to expand the domestic telephone service here. Lineman’s statement also focused on what he described as the “social cost” of the continued GT8T monopoly. “The Guyanese diaspora is also paying these astronomical rates to call home to relatives and friends and consumers here are paying extraordinarily high rates to call overseas,” the DIGICEL CEO’s statement added.

Meanwhile Linehan has restated what O’Brien told Stabroek Business was DIGICEL’s intention to secure at least 50 per cent of the local cellular market share within the next six months. He said that the company currently serviced around 150,000 customers and that its share of the market was currently between 35 and 40 per cent.

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of DIGICEL’s entry into the Guyana market and Linehan said that since the company’s acquisition of U-mobile it had spent more than US$60M to more than double the number of sites erected by that company

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