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Digicel and GT&T continue row over reforms

22 Dec 2011

The imminent introduction of a new parliament in Guyana has ignited a row between the country’s two wireless providers, Digicel Guyana and incumbent Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T). Before the dissolution of the previous parliament, plans to pass two bills − the Telecommunications Bill and the Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill − that would improve the conditions for competition in the sector were scrapped at the last minute due to comments from an unspecified party. 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. In the wake of the legislation’s collapse, Digicel accused GT&T’s parent company Atlantic TeleNetworks (ATN) of intimidating the government into halting the reforms with threats of legal action.

With the formation of a new parliament, Digicel reiterated its request for liberalisation and called on GT&T to make public its objections to the bill. Gregory Dean, CEO of Digicel Guyana, said: ‘The … reversal of the planned telecommunications reform was attributed to the possibility of litigation and acrimony which arose following communications between the government and US-based ATN/GT&T. Now, more than two months later, GT&T nor its parent company, ATN, has stated what their concerns were with the bill. After months of consultations and commitments, the government pulled the 2011 Telecommunications Reform Bill, on 22 September, due to these last minute submissions from ATN/GT&T. The reality is that liberalisation would probably force GT&T to get away from its monopoly/subsidy mindset and manage itself as a proper competitive company. Businesses should thrive on merit and through competing vigorously, not by sitting on a guaranteed monopoly for two decades that grants it significant advantages over other operators.’ Dean continued, lamenting that Digicel’s returns on investments have been below expectations as a result of GT&T’s monopoly on international termination.

In response, GT&T chief executive Yog Mahadeo, called for Digicel to publish its financial results to substantiate its claims. Mahadeo dismissed the allegations made against GT&T and ATN as absurd, asking how a private company can intimidate a government. Repeating that his company was in favour of liberalisation, he continued: ‘You mustn’t have liberalisation for the sake of GT&T and Digicel; you must have it for the sake of the country. In …every stakeholder meeting we have had, our intent was to look at the framework and look at what has worked and failed in other countries and try to make such recommendations as to what can make our country better.’

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