Antiguan gov’t proposes amendments to Telecoms Bill to benefit APUA

26 Jun 2019

The Daily Observer writes that, amid an ongoing dispute with Digicel over the reallocation of 850MHz spectrum, the government of Antigua and Barbuda now proposes to make changes to the proposed Telecommunications Bill that will benefit state-owned telco Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA). Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan reportedly confirmed the government’s plan to secure protection for the state asset to prevent it from being placed at a disadvantage by foreign companies. ‘I agree with the position that there should be some protection because I have noticed coming from the Privy Council in some one of the jurisdictions that they accept that parliament or the government may make decisions to ensure that private enterprises or public enterprises that are locally owned are not wiped out by the competition,’ he said, adding: ‘So … with the Prime Minister’s specific permission, we will spend the next five to seven days looking at to see how best we can reformulate some of the provisions to give some protection to our local asset, which is APUA, and not open it up to the extent that it may or may not be unfairly prejudiced by having to comply with certain things.’ It is understood the amendments – which will be subject to parliamentary approval – will allow for the sharing or distribution of the digital space while leaving room for compensation if necessary.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gaston Browne turned up the heat in the government’s ongoing spat with foreign-owned mobile operators over the administration’s plan to reallocate spectrum to APUA, putting Digicel Group’s local subsidiary on alert by suggesting that his government would not hesitate to buy out competitors to ensure that APUA is not left behind in the local market. After both Digicel and Flow ignored calls to comply with an edict to share spectrum with APUA, Browne claimed that ‘No court can tell us to whom we can license our spectrum, our national asset’, but the two foreign-owned companies filed litigation against the government and Digicel subsequently secured a court order to prevent the government from seizing or confiscating any of its 850MHz spectrum.