For the first half of the year, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) has been able to keep 98% of its connections to landline and DSL services working at any given time, Chief Executive Officer Justin Nedd said yesterday.
“…And I think that is commendable because it is certainly an improvement from a year ago where the number [of faults] was at 10[%]. We are looking at ways to reduce that and in the last 12 months we have enabled more than 6,000 homes and businesses with the fastest internet available in Guyana and that is 6,000 homes that never had internet at this speed or internet from GTT before,” Nedd told a press conference where he provided an update on the company’s achievements over the last six to 12 months.
He pointed out that the “extremely high” demand for the company’s new Blaze internet service has resulted in the waiting list extending to more than 4,000 persons, which he said is a good problem to have.
“It’s not a problem that we simply ignore or take lightly. We are pushing very hard to reduce the waiting list and it’s not unusual to see technicians working late nights and early mornings and weekends. Over the last 12 months, the only days they didn’t work is Christmas [Day], Boxing Day and New Year [Day],” he said, while stating that they have been able to connect approximately 120 persons per day for the new service and will be looking at new ways to accelerate the numbers, while decreasing the backlog.
Each instalment can take up to two to four hours and Nedd pointed out that it is not a loss for the company to have such a long waiting list since they did not predict that so many persons would have been interested. He added that they are doing everything they can to reduce the waiting list as quickly as possible and so far they have spent more than US$20 million and counting for their fibre optic upgrade programme.
With more persons being connected to the new service every day, Nedd said that they have recorded a 13% increase in internet traffic within the last six months and that figure is projected to grow even more as they continue their upgrades.
For the increase in internet traffic, Google, Facebook and Netflix account for 35% of the usage. Additionally, the growth in the number of internet customers within the last four years stands at over 15% at a compounded annual basis and the company expects for this trend to continue.
He also stressed that within the first half of the year and over the last 12 months they have rebuilt a large part of their network and on a weekly basis they build 1,000 “homes passed” (a metric used for measuring the fibre optic network) and have covered a large portion of Georgetown and Greater Georgetown. In total, they have more than 45,000 homes passed and he added that they “certainly don’t intend to stop there.”
“Places like Parfaite Harmonie [and] Eccles’ Young Professional Housing Scheme now have high quality services from GTT,” he added, while stating that they intend to end the year strongly, which will see them deploy various services to areas outside of Georgetown; Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo; Parika, New Herstelling and Perseverance Housing Scheme.
He added that they are moving towards automating most of their services and are currently working on setting up a bot for their Facebook page.
Nedd was questioned about liberalisation of the sector and how it would affect the company’s performance and operations, to which he said they are already operating in such a space with a sense of urgency.
“Let’s look at the reality; we’ve got on paper exclusivity for international and long distance, we are not the only one who provide international long distance service. We’ve got exclusivity at providing internet and data service, we are not the only one that provide that. We’ve got the exclusivity to provide landline services [and] well we are the only one that still provide it and I would guess it’s because it is not economically attractive. Am I concerned about liberalisation? We operate in a competitive space already [and] what liberalisation will do in my belief is level the playing field where we all either pay 45% taxes and adhere by the same regulatory rules,” he said, while stressing that despite offering customers a 93% cheaper service than other providers, GTT still has to pay 45% in statutory taxes while other companies are paying significantly less.
Nedd also noted that they have submitted the required documentation to the Ministry of Public Telecommunications and last sat down with them in 2016 to discuss the end of the monopoly.
“So, I want to say we had fruitful discussion with the government. Our exclusive license, the contract, already dictates that there is a term of exclusivity and that is still being negotiated,” he said, while recalling that the company’s last sit down with the government a few years ago was productive. “Since then we exchanged a number of documents and papers so we are ready and I think it’s pretty closer than ever,” he said, while stressing that they are not the only party involved in the negotiations,” he added.
Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes previously said that liberalisation of the telecoms sector has been stalled by tax issues between GTT and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). While GTT’s 2016 annual report has reported that the assessments total US$44.1 million, GRA Commissioner-General Godfrey Statia had said at the start of the year that GTT’s indebtedness was still being calculated.
He said then that GTT in its 2016 annual report recorded US$44.1 million as its maximum exposure but based on certain court decisions made in the past he expects their exposure to actually be half that sum.
In the report, GTT explained that it was involved in several legal claims regarding its tax filings with the GRA dating back to 1991 regarding the deductibility of intercompany advisory fees as well as other tax assessments. The company argued that should it be held liable for any of the disputed tax assessments, totalling US$44.1 million, it believes that the Government of Guyana would then be obligated to reimburse GTT for any amounts necessary to ensure that GTT’s return on investment was no less than 15% per annum for the relevant periods.