A Telecommunications Agency is to be established under the amended Telecommunications legislation to function, in part, as an advisory body, reviewer of licence applications and regulator of the use of the spectrum.
According to the 102-page Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has been uploaded to the website of the Official Gazette for public viewing, the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) would be incorporated into the new agency, which will function under the subject minister’s supervision.
The bill, now in the name of Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes, appears to be the same that was tabled twice before under successive PPP/C-led administrations. The bill had been delayed for years at the select committee in previous Parliaments as the then government bowed to demands for a deferral by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) and its principal shareholder, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), in order to allow for further negotiations on the liberalisation of the sector. While in opposition, the now governing coalition members, APNU and AFC, had voiced support for the bill, albeit with some reservations about ministerial authority. It is unclear whether the provisions that created consternation about the minister’s powers were retained.
According to the explanatory memorandum, the bill will provide for “an open, liberalised and competitive telecommunications sector” that will be attractive to new market entrants and investors, while preserving the activities of the current sector participants.
With its passage, the bill would repeal the Telecommunications Act of 1990 as well as provisions of the Post and Telegraph Act governing wireless telegraphy while providing what is described as a “transitional regime” under which new licences and frequency authorisations would be issued to GTT, Digicel and other existing sector participants on the date the Act comes into operation. It says any other person holding licences or spectrum permits under the repealed regime are required to apply for new licences and frequency authorisation within 90 days of the Act’s commencement.
The explanatory memorandum states that by creating a competitive environment for telecommunications, the legislation is expected “to result in greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices” for consumers. It adds that to further national and regional, social and economic development, the bill also specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunications networks and services into unserved and underserved areas through the institution of a new universal access/universal services programme.
According to the explanatory memorandum, the bill, along with a consolidated Public Utilities Commission Bill 2016, creates a “clear, harmonised framework and a level playing field for the sector” that is lacking in the current laws and is similar to that found in other countries in the world, including most Caribbean countries. It was explained that the new legal framework is characterised by transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licences and authorisations to use the spectrum, seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications network and services and price regulation where required to ensure competition and protect consumers.
According to the bill, the Telecommunications Agency would be responsible for ensuring that all the rules are followed and that all in the sector operate to the standard that they ought to. It says that the agency’s functions shall be discharged by a nine-member board, which is appointed by the minister, including three persons named by the minister, one of whom shall be designated by the minister as Chair of the Board; two persons named by the Leader of the Opposition after consultation with the Opposition Parties in the National Assembly; the Director of Telecommunications of the Agency; one person named by the private sector after consultation among persons from private sector bodies; one person named by consumer bodies after consultations among persons from such bodies; and one person named by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.
It states that the officers of the Agency shall be a Director of Telecommunications, who shall be appointed by the minister and shall also serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the Agency; such Heads of Division as may be designated and appointed by the Board, with the approval of the minister; and a corporate secretary appointed by the minister.
The bill says too that all members of the board and the officers of the Agency shall be persons of “high character and integrity and qualified as having had extensive and relevant training and experience in fields relating to telecommunications law, economics, finance, engineering, or other technical, business or consumer matters.”
With regards to the functions of the agency, the bill states that subject to the provisions it shall “advise and make recommendations to the Minister, and implement his directions, on telecommunications- and spectrum-related policies at the national, bilateral, regional and international levels.” The agency is also to advise the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on matters regarding its functioning as well as receive and review applications for licences, exemptions and frequency authorisations and provide its analyses, advice and recommendations to the minister.
According to the bill, the agency is also tasked with “monitoring the performance of licences, exemptions and frequency authorisations; enforce and ensure compliance with their terms and conditions, except for such matters that may be allocated to enforcement by the Commission under this Act, the regulations or a relevant licence; and advise and make recommendations to the Minister in writing on the amendment, renewal, suspension and termination thereof.”
Its analysis capability also extends to others technical tasks, and the provision of written advice and recommendations to the Minister, regarding “the telecommunications networks that should be classified or reclassified as public telecommunications networks, private telecommunications networks, or any other type of telecommunications network, and the telecommunications services that should be classified or reclassified as public telecommunications services, private telecommunications services, value added services, or any other type of telecommunications service; the telecommunications networks that should be operated, and the telecommunications services and value added service that should be provided, under class licences, and the terms and conditions of any such class licence; the classes or descriptions, if any, of operators and service providers, and their related telecommunications networks and telecommunications services, that should be exempted from the requirement to obtain a licence under this Act, and the terms and conditions of any such exemption; the instances in which a competitive process should be utilised to select licensees and authorisation holders and the terms and conditions of any such competitive process; the telecommunications networks and telecommunications services that should be provided pursuant to section 43, and the establishment of the Universality Fund; and the representation of the Government in international, regional and bilateral telecommunications- and spectrum-related organisations, conferences, meeting and other events.”
The bill states that the Agency is to plan, supervise and regulate the use of the spectrum, and the installation and use of radio communication equipment, by any person, including ships, aircraft and other vessels, and persons engaged in broadcasting, whether registered in Guyana or another jurisdiction.
It is to serve as an investigative body, also, to resolve all complaints of harmful interference made to the Agency or of which it has knowledge; to establish, with the approval of the minister, and monitor the implementation of national telecommunications- and spectrum-related technical standards and ensure compliance, including to regulate numbers, the telecommunications numbering system and dialing parity; certify and otherwise regulate terminal equipment, radio communication equipment, and equipment used in facilities for compliance with the national and international standards and the environmental health and safety standards related to electromagnetic radiation and emissions.
According to the bill, the agency is to collect fees and all other charges payable to it under the Act.
It would also be responsible for matters of international, regional and bilateral telecommunications and spectrum-related matters affecting Guyana, including “standard-setting and enforcement and the allocation, use and regulation of the spectrum, numbers and domain names” and will participate in international, regional and bilateral telecommunications- and spectrum-related organisations, conferences, meetings and other events.
The bill says the agency will conduct research on the development of telecommunications technology and institute measures to promote the development of telecommunications sector-related skills as well as carry out the directions and orders of the minister in the performance of the office holder’s function.
Meanwhile, the bill also outlines the requirements governing the use of the telecommunications spectrum.
It states that except in accordance with an order or regulations, no person “shall use the spectrum, or install or operate radio communication equipment, without a frequency authorisation granted by the Minister.”
According to the bill, a person wishing to use the spectrum and install and operate radio communication equipment for such purposes must submit an application for a frequency authorisation to the agency in the manner specified in the regulations. It states that on the submission of an application for a frequency authorisation, the agency shall publish same in the Official Gazette and the applicant shall publish a notice of such application in a newspaper for the purpose of providing interested persons the opportunity to comment, and the minister shall consider any representations or objections which are duly made and not withdrawn.
It is stated that the agency shall give its recommendations with respect to each application for a frequency authorisation to the minister, who would then make the final decision to grant or deny.
According to the bill, the frequency authorisation shall be consistent with the spectrum plan established by the agency and shall confer on the authorisation holder the right to use a specific frequency band or bands and install and operate specific types of radio communication equipment for the use of such frequency band or bands, subject to such conditions as may be set out therein and in the regulations.
With regards to operating any radio communication equipment within Guyana for the purpose of transmitting any telecommunication to any point outside Guyana, a person shall first obtain a frequency authorisation expressly authorising the installation and operation of any such radio communication equipment and the use of the spectrum in connection therewith.
The bill states that a person that intends to reconfigure or otherwise alter the technical parameters of any radio communication equipment authorised for installation and operation under a frequency authorisation, or add any type of radio communication equipment that is not already authorised in its frequency authorisation, shall notify the agency of the intention in writing, and shall be required to be granted an amendment of the frequency authorisation by, or to be granted other written approval of, the minister, prior to effecting any such reconfiguration or other alteration or addition, as the case may be.