The erroneous definition of broadcasting has not been removed from the Telecommunications Bill

Dear Editor,

When I was asked to become a member of the board of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA), I was mandated to undo any irregularity which I found in Broadcast Act 17 of 2011, which was put there by Bharrat Jagdeo, especially when it had to do with the illegal issuance of radio and other licences. I was familiar with the Act since I had done commentaries and written to the newspapers, and on the instructions of Mr Joe Harmon, I had written what we as members of the opposition wanted changed in the Act, but the proroguing of parliament stopped the passage of the changes we wanted. More than once before my selection to the GNBA, I said that the radio licences were issued wrongly and illegally by Mr Jagdeo, since they violated the decade-long agreements of 2001-2011 of the Dialogue between Desmond Hoyte and Jagdeo and then later the communiqué between Jagdeo and Robert Corbin.

The Broadcast Act of 2011 contains many perversions and so does the Telecommucations Act of 2016. For example, they both contain this definition of broadcasting: “Broadcasting means the transmission of any programme, whether or not encrypted and whether or not actually received, by wired or wireless medium or technology for reception by all or part of the general public, but does not include telecommunications”

This perversion in the Broadcast Act of 2011 activated in 2012 set the stage for cable transmissions or wireless cable to be considered as broadcasting. Prior to 2012 when the 2011 Act was activated, cable operators were required to operate in the multichannel multipoint distribution system (MMDS) band of frequencies, ie, 2.4-2.7 Giga Hertz (GHz). This high frequency is not easy to use, and is intended by its very characteristics to restrict cable transmissions to a limited area since it is so difficult to propagate. Mr Jagdeo wanted E-Networks to become a national monopoly, and that is why this perverted definition was used for broadcasting since on implementing the Act, E-Networks was given the following UHF broadcast television channels: 36, 37, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, ie, eight broadcast frequencies.

But I also noted that in the analog allocation for broadcasting, the UHF band occupies from channels 14 to 83. But our allocation only gave us 14 to 50, so I wanted to know why 51 to 83 was not available for broadcasting in Guyana, and where it was allocated. After months of delay and grandstanding by the NFMU, I was told that it was not our business. I sought evidence of where channels 51 to 83 went, and I discovered by a process of deduction that some of it went to Digicel for cellular services. When Digicel obtained these valuable, limited national assets in Jamaica, they paid US$25 million for 70 Mhz of it; the PPP/C and the Guyana NFMU passed these frequencies to Digicel and there is no national record that anything was paid in compensation to the people of Guyana. In addition, even though E-Networks is not broadcasting since none of the general rules for broadcasting is applicable to them, they are occupying 8 channels in the UHF band. Between 600 to 700 MHz. we cannot offer any competitor of E-Networks these same frequencies since there is no spectrum left to do so, and it creates a constitutional violation since any cable operator which does not get these frequencies will never be able to compete with E-Networks. They will be stuck in the MMDS band of 2.4-2.7 MHz and their signals will only reach to just a little beyond Plaisance, whilst E-Networks will reach almost to Mahaica because of the gift of those 8 broadcast frequencies given to them compliments of Mr Jagdeo and the NFMU.

Also I do not see anywhere that E-Networks is regulated; they seem to have a national franchise to go anywhere and to use any frequencies or to run any cable they want. And I swore to undo it.

Any attempt to remove the 12 radio stations from the air, must also address this grave inequity in cable; it has to. The majority of the GNBA members agree to this principle. I will not say who did not, and why, but that should be self-evident.

So regulations will not change this situation; there have to be modifications to the principal Act as well. It should redefine broadcasting so that it is identified as what it really is, namely, a transmission for mass communications, where everyone with a TV set and the right antenna can receive it, and not include multipoint multichannel distribution system which is not transmitted to a mass media, which is what transmitting digital and encrypted signals to selected point-to-point paying subscribers is.  Mr Hugh Cholomondeley used to call it, rightly, narrow casting not broadcasting.

Finally, we recently passed a Telecommunications Bill in which we did not seek to remove this erroneous definition of broadcasting, and we also did not take measures against those who received the channels 51 to 83 in the UHF broadcast band so they compensated the people of Guyana for doing so. I was hoping that the CoI would address this, since it formed a significant part of my presentation, but since it has not, probably because it did not form part of the terms of reference, I have decided to tell the people of Guyana what happened in this letter, since these frequencies are really theirs. In a previous letter months ago I had asked for a frequency audit. I am asking for it again.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Vieira