GT&T, DIGICEL text messaging deal may have to await liberalization

The long awaited SMS interconnection between DIGICEL and the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) seems set for a further delay as the two service providers are yet to reach an agreement that would enable their respective subscribers to share a text messaging facility.

And last week, in an exclusive interview with the Stabroek Business  DIGICEL Chief Executive Officer, Gregory Dean said that his company had found the process of negotiating an interconnection agreement with GT&T “frustrating” and had now decided to set aside an existing draft SMS agreement and seek to address all interconnection (both voice and text) issues with GT&T through a single process. “We are now going to be saying to GT&T that these are all the issues that we have in relation to interconnection and this is how we propose to solve them,”  Dean told Stabroek Business.

During the interview Dean made no secret of what he described as DIGICEL’s “frustration” over what the company believes has been the creation by GT&T of needless hurdles to the signing of the interconnection agreement. “I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t want to give customers such a basic service. In most other countries customers enjoy this service,” Dean said.

Noting that there were “no major technical reasons” why the SMS interconnection service could not be offered Dean said that he was at a loss as to why there would be “such a big issue over such a basic service.”

Dean told Stabroek Business that an understanding between the two companies on the desirability of an SMS agreement had been arrived at more than a year ago. He said that at that time both sides had said that they needed time “to be technically prepared” for interconnection.   He said that in May last year both parties indicated their technical readiness, tests were done and it was established that the system worked.  According to Dean GT&T then drafted an amendment to the current interconnection agreement dealing with voice traffic which agreement had gone “back and forth” between the two parties to make changes and adjustments.

Dean told Stabroek Business that in December last year, not having heard from GT&T for several weeks, DIGICEL enquired about the status of the agreement. He said that GT&T then sought clarification of some of the changes which DIGICEL had made to the agreement and indicated that it wished to include a further “five or six items” of its own.

”We spent two weeks on the agreement after which we told GT&T that we accepted all of their changes,” He said that after the contract was returned to GT&T that company then said that their lawyers were busy. Dean said that DIGICEL then told GT&T that it believed that the issue was a simple one and that the company wished to be notified as to whether or not GT&T really wanted an SMS interconnection agreement.

According to Dean GT&T then told DIGICEL that it was in the process of a seasonal “network freeze” over Christmas. “Our proposal then was that we agree on the paperwork in December and launch the service in  January once the network freeze was over. We got no response to that proposal. However, in January of this year we then hear them saying that they have concerns about capacity issues and that they need to resolve those.”

Dean said that at the moment DIGICEL found itself in a situation in which,  “whether it’s voice or SMS, when you go to GT&T to discuss an issue they say we are not ready, we will discuss once there is liberalization, But when will there be liberalization?”

Meanwhile, Dean told Stabroek Business that what was in evidence in the relationship between the two telecommunications service providers was “a clash of cultures” rather than “any unhealthy antagonism.” He said that “GT&T has been a monopoly for so long that they do things at their own pace. DIGICEL is a company that wants everything to be done tomorrow.  For us, as soon as everything is ready you launch. It’s a culture clash that is being played out between a company that has been a monopoly for sixteen years and suddenly has an aggressive competitor challenging them every day,” Dean said. He added that he considered this to be “just another form of competition” from which the customers are benefiting rather than “anything unhealthy.”

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