I came across a misguided letter in the Stabroek News of November 24, carrying the headline ‘The erroneous definition of broadcasting has not been removed from the Telecommunications Bill’ by Tony Vieira.
The writer claimed that the Broadcasting Act of 2011 and the Telecommunications Act of 2016 contain many perversions and he cited the definition to cause “cable transmissions or wireless cable to be considered as broadcasting” as one such perversion. He further opined that the laws of Guyana “should redefine broadcasting so that it is identified as what it really is… and not include a multipoint multichannel distribution system which is not transmitted to a mass media… Mr Hugh Cholomondeley used to call it, rightly, narrow casting not broadcasting.”
In the Broadcasting Acts of Trinidad and Tobago (2001) a “broadcasting service” means the offering of the transmission of programmes whether or not encrypted, by any means of telecommunication, for reception by the general public, including sound, radio, television and other types of transmissions, such as those on a point to multipoint basis. “Telecommunications” includes the transmission, emission or reception of signals, writing, pulses, images, sounds or other intelligence of any kind by wire, radio, terrestrial or submarine cables, optical or electromagnetic spectrum or by way of any other technology.
South Africa (1999), the United Kingdom (1996), Australia (1992), Japan (2010) and Canada (1991) have similar definitions. In every case cited, the definitions agree and are generally consistent with the one crafted for Guyana. Mr Vieira is the only person who seems to think that multichannel distribution of video signals is not broadcasting.
The early form of cable was the Community Antenna Television (CATV), a type of cable system for communities in the USA where traditional terrestrial television signals were very weak. As cable developed and grew and because it did not utilize any spectrum it was largely unregulated by the FCC. Not until 1949 when the FCC attempted to regulate it was there a capitalists’ fight back to resist regulation. In the end, the matter was taken to the US Supreme Court which upheld the authority of the FCC to regulate CATV systems. That judgment and the evolution and interaction of cable with traditional TV more or less set the baseline for broadcasting the world over.
Mr Vieira is asking the nation to zip back to the 1950s and resurrect a case that was fought and settled and accepted across the globe.
Services developed different reference names after the 1960s and ʼ70s. Traditional broadcast TV was referred to as Over the Air TV Broadcasting or Terrestrial TV Broadcasting; while cable was referred to as Subscription TV Service or just Subscription TV Broadcasting. Satellite TV service is usually referred to as Terrestrial Satellite or Free to Air Satellite Broadcasting and the paid version is usually referred to as Subscription Satellite Broadcasting. This is the standard definition the world has adopted for many moons now, and the concept of ‘narrow casting’ will forever remain jargon in an academic discussion on broadcasting, but will not normally find its way into legal definitions for broadcasting or any serious body of academic work.
I don’t want to speak for the NFMU which is the competent authority to deal with all spectrum issues, but with reference to the matter of Jamaica receiving US$25M for its 700 Mhz band, the deal was for 10 years which means Jamaica is actually receiving $2.5M per year for 10 years, paid in advance. That works out to be $500M per year. In Guyana we are currently receiving roughly about $300M annually from Digicel and GTT who are sharing spectrum in Guyana. Compare Guyana with a population of 750,000 people, less international travel and a smaller digital footprint than a Jamaican population of over 2 million crammed into a small island. When considered pound for pound we are receiving more per capita for the use of our spectrum than Jamaica, as such auction may not be the best option for Guyana at this time. There is a lot more (which I wouldn’t go into due to lack of space) that needs to be put in place before spectrum auction is possible.
And finally, with respect to E-Networks, I too believe that political favours were granted to it at the expense of many others, even though that company denies it. Evidence of it being godfathered is provided by the attempts of the last administration to specifically name E-Networks as being entitled to a telecoms licence when the previous Telecoms Bill was laid in the 10th Parliament. Having said that, I accept that there needs to be a levelling of the field with respect to cable broadcasting, but banishing the use of the 600-700 MHz band is not the way to accomplish that. Confining everyone to the 2.3 to 2.7 GHz band is throwing Guyana right back into the Dark Ages. The world has long evolved from that spectrum for wireless cable broadcasting; in fact there is no active manufacturer on the planet that has a production line to outfit a cable operation in that broadcast range. All the equipment available will be used or refurbished since such products are end-of-life products for which technical support will not be available. Do we really want to do this to Guyana?
Besides all of that, it is most inefficient for a modern wireless cable broadcasting system; it is inefficient not because of the distance of the signal propagation, since any sensible operator can overcome that impediment, but because of the compression carrier technology it uses. It uses the MPEG 2 picture compression format and a larger inter-block bandwidth increment to pipe data, so in an 80MHz block an operator can pack up to 40 channels. Any child who has played a video on a computer or a smart phone or has downloaded from YouTube knows the MPEG 2 technology is dead, done and dusted. The MPEG 4 and H.264 video formats which have received several reinventions and upgrades are also dying to HEVC and other formats which deliver HDTV more efficiently and at higher bit rates allowing more channels to fit within a given interblock band. Such advancement in video technology is allowing carriers to pack as many as 120 channels in a 40Mhz block. And these advancements in video compression technology are not available on MMDS in the 2-3 GHz bands. Around the world the DVBt-2 broadcast technology in the 600-700 MHz space is what is being used. Further, with Guyana’s move to digital TV by 2020 or just beyond, and with the new Digital Terrestrial Broadcast Technology available, all of Guyana’s Over the Air TV service for the foreseeable future can be catered for with the spectrum utilized by just about 6 UHF analog channels. The question is what do we do with the additional broadcast spectrum? The more likely occupation will be subscription TV.
Many of the current cable broadcasters have lamented that they were unfairly treated by the last administration, and some of these claims seem credible, but I have not been advised that there is a single application lying at the GNBA for cable broadcasting 600-700 MHz band. I have repeatedly said to operators who spoke to me that they should apply to be where E-Networks is, and that will give the GNBA a legitimate reason to say to E-Networks that there are others who want to be where you are and there is hardly any place to put them. I had made a commitment to make representation on their behalf with the government for concessionary relief to allow them to invest in the sector. I had already made approaches to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Business to feel out their willingness to entertain such an approach; they both agreed in principle with my suggestion but want to see concrete proposals. No existing cable broadcaster ever approached me with a preliminary proposal of how they wish to be enabled to compete with E-Networks. Ultimately Guyana has to decide if the aim is to wipe out E-Networks simply because it received favours from the last government, or is it that we want to curb the near monopoly status it is enjoying and expose it to formidable robust competition.