Telecoms bill to free up communication – Granger

The recent passage of the telecommunications liberalisation bill is a step in the right direction and it will ensure that Guyanese have access to up to date technology and freer communication, according to President Granger.

“My vision is that the information super highway should be free and sooner rather than later every Guyanese must be able to communicate without impediment, without restraint, without delay. So my vision goes way beyond the Bill. It goes into the next generation that we must have completely free telecommunications,” Granger said during the Ministry of the Presidency’s “The Public Interest” interview programme.

Granger was asked to comment on last week’s passage of the Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill and his vision for the telecommunications sector.

Recalling that in January this year he implemented a Ministry of Public Telecommunications, Granger said,  “I must admit that this was not done at the time that the administration entered office but it was corrected at the beginning of January because public information, public communication, information technology are all central to national development.”

He added that the only thing he can say about the bill is that “it took too long to come… it ought to have come much earlier but if Guyana is to move forward or if Guyana is to catch up with the rest of the Caribbean, the rest of the world…we need to have a more liberal landscape for communications.  We need to ensure that all parts of the country can communicate easily.” He informed of a village in the hinterland where residents have to climb up a coconut tree in order to get a telephone signal.

The long-awaited telecommunications reform legislation was passed last Monday after six hours of debating. Opposition speakers expressed support for it but they also tried without success to have it sent to a special select committee to correct what they said were its deficiencies.

Granger stated that there are more than half a million cell phones in Guyana and “we cannot afford to deprive a huge part of our population of the ability to communicate freely.” He reiterated that telecommunications is a right and an entitlement. “People are entitled to go on the information super highway. People are entitled to communicate. It is guaranteed in our laws and it really took too long for us to arrive at this stage,” he said, while congratulating both sides of the House for the passage of the bill.

Granger said that Guyana needs to catch up with the rest of the world, while adding that the first step is to ensure that there is interconnectivity throughout the country.

He stated that he would like to go to places at the far corners of the country and be able to make a telephone call as well as for every public building to have Wi-Fi.

Asked how soon he will assent to the Bill, Granger’s response was that as soon as he gets it. “If I can get it at 10 o’clock maybe be by 10.15,” he said.

“There is not a single bill that I have delayed my assent to over the last 14 months and once the National Assembly approved, I am going to assent to this Bill,” he added.

Asked if he is willing to sit and have a discussion with GTT, he said “we are a consultative government and we are prepared to listen.” He said that there is little that hasn’t been heard already but government is prepared to sit and listen to GTT.

Days after the bill’s passage, Chief Executive Officer of GTT Justin Nedd said that in order to have liberalisation, the company and the government have to engage in discussions and the company is ready to “quickly engage the government.”

“That’s not a problem but we want to make sure that they all recognise that liberalisation is the direction in which the country is travelling and we don’t want any impediments,” Granger said.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the bill provides 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.” It says that by creating this environment, the bill is expected to result in “greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers.”

In an effort to further national and regional social 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.

The bill, along with a consolidated Public Utilities Commission Bill 2016, is expected to create 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 says that the new legal framework is to be characterised by transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licenses and authorisations to use the spectrum “seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks and services and price regulation where required to ensure competition and protect consumers.”

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