Digicel confirms reaching ‘amicable agreement’ with Antigua and Barbuda government over spectrum sharing

2 Sep 2019

Digicel has confirmed ending its dispute with the government of Antigua and Barbuda over the latter’s plan to take back some of its mobile spectrum for redistribution to state-owned rival Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA). Irish-based Digicel was moved to issue the clarification in the wake of a public announcement from the government that a deal had been reached. Having initially declined to comment on reports from Information Minister Melford Nicholas ‘bragging’ about a deal, it finally issued a statement on 29 August confirming that an ‘amicable agreement’ had been reached with regards to the spectrum arrangements ‘to enhance telephony and internet services in the country’.

The Daily Observer notes that in its statement, the government had claimed: ‘Digicel will transfer 2MHz of the 850MHz band and 9MHz of the 900MHz band to APUA. Digicel will also discontinue its lawsuit against the government and APUA. The APUA will now seek a final settlement with Cable and Wireless (Flow) for transfer of 3MHz of the 850MHz band. APUA will then be able to offer more services to its growing customer base.’ Digicel’s head of group communication, Antonia Graham, later confirmed it was true, while the group subsequently published a statement saying that Digicel welcomed ‘this positive engagement and believes this signals a new era of constructive relations with the government and will benefit citizens, businesses as well as the government and government services in Antigua & Barbuda.’ Further, the cellco claimed it was ‘happy’ to have secured the ‘automatic continuity’ of its licences beyond 2021 which will allow it to move forward with its investment plans in the country.

The agreement seemingly ends the long-running public spat between the government of Gaston Browne and Digicel over the controversial plan to redistribute 850MHz and 900MHz band spectrum to APUA, while the solution to the row between Flow and the government reportedly remains ‘uncertain’. Speaking last week, Melford Nicholas said: ‘Cabinet did authorise me yesterday [28 August] to execute a memorandum of understanding [MoU] between the government and Digicel, where two tracks of low frequency spectrum will be made available to APUA … In addition to that, the government has undertaken to grant Digicel the assurance that in 2021 when its licences would come to expiration that there will be a very real possibility that they will be granted a fresh licence.’

The minister believes that in reaching a deal ‘good sense prevailed’, adding that in the coming days both parties will work to finalise the MoU in time to file a notice to the court of the final settlement. In May 2019 Digicel had filed its motion in the courts to prevent the government from redistributing the 850MHz spectrum and giving it to APUA. The regional telco claimed at the time it was forced into this legal challenge to protect its customers and services from what it considered the government’s ‘anti-competitive and protectionist’ decision on 8 May 2019.