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ATN accused of intimidating Guyanese government

3 Oct 2011

The deferral of Guyana’s new telecommunications laws until after December’s general election has resulted in a clash between the country’s two telcos. Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) and Digicel Guyana came to verbal blows after a government spokesperson suggested that the delays were the result of potential litigation from the incumbent GT&T. In the week following the postponement Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon announced that the majority owners of GT&T, Atlantic TeleNetworks (ATN), had been communicating with the government. According to local paper, Kaieteur News, Luncheon suggested that the input from ATN required consideration to avoid acrimony and litigation. He went on to say that the government wished to pass the legislation without there being fallout afterwards.

The announcement led to accusations from Digicel, demanding that GT&T provide an explanation regarding any threats made against the government. Gregory Dean, CEO of Digicel Guyana said that it was a ‘matter of very grave concern that a US based multinational would seek to intimidate and bully the Government of Guyana into submission in relation to a matter of such fundamental importance to the development of telecommunications and the economy of Guyana as a whole. The people of Guyana deserve to know the whole truth about this most unfortunate episode’. Dean’s counterpart at GT&T, Yog Mahadeo described the accusations as ‘garbage’ and stood by his earlier statement that GT&T had made no late submissions to the government.

In its 2010 annual report ATN noted a disagreement with the Guyanese government over the end of its exclusivity. GT&T had its international licence renewed until there was legislation in place to liberalise the sector. However, it was the position of ATN at that time that its monopoly on the international market would be continued until it reached a negotiated settlement with the government.

As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the government had planned to pass two bills, the Telecommunications Bill and the Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill that would improve the conditions for competition in the sector. The two pieces of legislation would have created a new regulator, the Telecommunications Agency, and a new framework of regulations including careful management of interconnection rates and the liberalisation of international call termination. The bill was pulled at the eleventh hour however, as a result of ‘significant comments’ that required further consideration.

The bills were widely expected to be read and passed on 22 September, during the government’s last sitting before it goes into recess in preparation for the general election. GT&T denied that it had made the last-second contribution, saying that it had submitted its response before the deadline.

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