Gov’t eyes explosion of liberalised telecoms sector
STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER BRIGADIER (RET’D) MARK PHILLIPS ON THE 1ST ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERALISATION OF THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS SECTOR:
One year ago, on October 5th 2020, history was made when our PPP/C Government, within just over two months of assuming office, issued commencement orders for the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in Guyana. This groundbreaking decision immediately opened up massive business opportunities by welcoming new entrants in ICT and ICT-enabled businesses to operate locally. Not only does this decision make Guyana a more attractive business destination, but it places our country on global standards with regard to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) operations.
Soon, our country will see a proliferation of added Telecommunications Operators, Internet Service Providers, Data Centres, Call Centres, and Business Process Outsourcing operations – each of which creates an increase in demand for skilled professionals. These positions will be required to be filled by our local workforce, thereby creating more jobs for our citizens.
Our Government has seen the far-reaching and long-term benefits of liberalisation as it deters the monopolisation of telecommunications services by any one entity, increasing access to telecommunications networks and bringing a wider and more affordable list of options for our citizens.
As we await the anticipated benefits of this landmark initiative, it is useful to observe the journey taken thus far:
- In 1990, the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company Limited (GT&T) was granted a licence by the Government of Guyana, giving the company a monopoly on landline services and international outbound and inbound calls in Guyana. However, no provision was made in the licence for monopoly operations of mobile voice services.
- In 2007, U-Mobile (Guyana) Inc. trading as Digicel entered the Guyana market and was granted a licence to operate mobile voice services, heralding competition in the mobile market.
- On October 5th, 2020 when the Telecommunications Act No. 18 of 2016 became effective, creating an automatic termination of GT&T’s monopoly designation, the telecommunications sector entered into an era of new possibilities. The concept of liberalisation was finally realised.
- The Government of Guyana granted new licences to the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company Limited and U-Mobile (Cellular) Inc., and also issued a licence to a third operator, E-Networks Inc., all of which have expanded the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) regulatory reach.
- On October 23rd 2020, by the requisite publication in the official gazette, seven accompanying Telecommunications Regulations became effective: Licensing and Frequency Authorisation; Spectrum Management; Universal Access and Universal Services; Interconnection and Access; Pricing; Consumer Protection; and, Competition.
- As a consequence of this, competition was increased and modern (4G and beyond) service is being extended to previously underserved areas, e.g., the Essequibo coast.
- Competition is driving innovation as companies move to improve service and keep/acquire customers. Operators are investing in networks to provide modern and up-to-date services to Guyanese in order to win and retain customers. Examples include:
o All operators are moving to rollout 4G, 4.5G and 5G networks
o GTT recently moved their data plan expiry rollover window from one hour to 24hrs. Therefore, a person whose data plan with that carrier expires say at 10pm on Sunday does not lose a data balance but has the option to reactivate during convenient and normal hours the next day. This is a direct response to the prospect of more choice in the market.
o “Double your data plans” offered by Digicel whereby customers get more data for the same spend.
o Wholesale prices for Internet bandwidth are being reduced.
- The new submarine cable to be landed by U-Mobile (Cellular) Inc. is expected to lead to more competition for international data and International Long Distance service, thus resulting in reduction of prices, especially for high speed Internet.
- Government is currently in the advanced stages of awarding another telecommunications licence for a 5G carrier.
Beyond this journey, much more work has to be done. Our Government recognises that liberalisation must come with complimentary work in capacity building of the regulatory entities. We have committed to working on this goal with regard to strengthening the Telecommunications Agency in preparation for regulating in a liberalised environment.
Additionally, the Public Utilities Commission has also done much work to prepare for the expected influx of opportunities that will transform our telecommunications sector. One significant achievement was the establishment of an internal monitoring unit to ensure that effective monitoring and compliance with the required quality of service standards are maintained by operators.
Looking forward, the PUC will be working in strict adherence to the provisions of the Telecommunications Act No. 18 of 2016, particularly in the areas of monitoring the competition in the market by creating modules on monitoring and reporting of anti-competitive behavior; reviewing the interconnection agreements between the operators as well as the Commission’s existing sanctions policy and enforcement policy; examining existing Quality of Service (QOS) and making recommendations for reform; launching online surveys on QOS issues; conducting public consultation on expectations of liberalisation and continuing to process consumers’ complaints.
Our Government’s intent is to provide for an open, liberalised and competitive sector that is attractive to new entrants with the expectation that this will result in greater choices, a better quality of service and lower prices for consumers.
The journey has just begun along this pathway to developing our telecommunications sector, but we are optimistic about what the future holds. Moreover, this development goes hand in hand with other transformative changes that are occurring in our country in oil and gas. All eyes are on Guyana, and we must ensure that we make our country ready for the prosperous future that lies ahead.