Gov’t should ponder GT&T concerns over draft law – telecoms source

Having studied the Draft legislation and regulations, we are left with numerous concerns – concerns which, if not clarified, will create investor and consumer uncertainty: for example, would it not amount to a rewarding of illegality if a currently illegal operator is automatically granted a licence with the introduction of the new legislation?

Government should take seriously the question raised by the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company (GT&T) earlier this week on whether the granting of an operating licence to a “currently illegal operator” would not amount to “a rewarding of illegality,” a source close to the telecommunications sector told Stabroek Business earlier this week.

The source, which made this newspaper aware of the completion of the new draft legislation for the liberalization of the telecommunications sector some weeks ago agreed to comment further following the release on Tuesday of a lengthy statement on the draft document by GT&T Chief Executive Officer Yog Mahadeo. The source told Stabroek Business that since “there had been and continues to be several players in the (phone call) bypass industry” who now have some “experience” in the sector it is not inconceivable that at some point in time one or more of them may consider themselves eligible to become a legitimate service provider. “It is really up to the authorities to do the necessary due diligence on the prospective owners of telecoms service providers and one assumes that this will be done,” the source said.

GT&T has continually expressed its disgust over loss of revenue resulting from the proliferation of the bypass practice. “I suppose one can raise the question as to whether the authorities really tried hard enough to stop the practice,” the source told Stabroek Business though Mahadeo himself has conceded that the sheer number of these services makes them difficult to rein in. He told Stabroek Business in an interview earlier this week that while the company routinely removes large quantities of Sim cards from the illegal bypass regime “thousands more” remain in the system.

GT&T has identified the bypass issue as one of its major concerns. In a separate interview with this newspaper Mahadeo conceded that the bypass practice had hurt the company. Mahadeo said that over time the company had managed to block thousands of Sims that had been pressed into the illegal service. He said, however, that there are still “several thousand more Sims” that are part of the illegal bypass “industry.”

The completion of draft legislation on the liberalization of the country’s telecommunications sector has prompted yet another call from the current monopoly holder for a level playing field under the new dispensation. “The rules must be fair and applied evenhandedly, regulation  must be sensible and enlightened, regulators and policymakers must not be allowed to pick winners and sector practices must encourage rather than deter investment in the rollout of networks and services,” the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Mahadeo told media houses at a briefing earlier this week. Asked whether GT&T’s apparent fears that the new regulations may militate against the company are well-founded the source said that “it depends how the government chooses to treat with GT&T’s competitors,” the source said.

The source said that Mahadeo’s lengthy press statement, GT&T’s first public pronouncement on the new draft legislation, may well be a precursor to subsequent interventions by the company aimed at securing clarification of what he described as “numerous concerns, which, if not clarified, will create investor and consumer uncertainty.” The source suggested that this may be the reason behind Mahadeo’s call for the new draft legislation to be subjected to stakeholder scrutiny and discourse before it is debated and eventually passed in the National Assembly.

Prior to the completion of the new draft legislation GT&T had repeatedly told this newspaper that it supported the liberalization of the sector. There is, however, evidence that the need for a level playing field which the company had articulated as a caveat for embracing liberalization, may not have, at least in its view, been embodied in the document.

At last Tuesday’s media briefing Mahadeo appeared to be sending signals that GT&T’s concerns with the new law and regulations were wide-ranging rather than minor ones. The company’s former Chief Financial Officer who was appointed Chief Executive Officer in August this year declared that the document did not reflect “an understanding of the challenges of Guyana and/or the telecommunication sector as a whole.”

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