50 companies eager to invest in Guyana’s Telecom sector – PM

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Prime Minister Mark Phillips

Less than one month after the telecommunications sector was officially liberalised, the PPP/C Government has already received investment interests from some 50 companies.

Prime Minister Mark Phillips – who has responsibility for the sector – told this publication during an exclusive interview on Friday that “there are about 50 small ISPs (internet service providers) in Guyana and everybody’s putting forward some investment request.”

“All will be looked at through the telecommunications agency,” he added.

“Some of those companies are local, some have foreign backing. And then, of course, you have a lot of international companies that will, who knows, in the near future, express an interest in the Guyana market,” PM Phillips said.

When pressed for the names of the companies that have expressed an interest in investing, the Prime Minister said it would not be “proper”, at this stage, to disclose.

Some two months after assuming office, the PPP/C Government announced the official liberalisation of the sector on October 5 – bringing an end to the 30-year monopoly that was held by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) company.

PM Phillips noted that this prompt achievement was made possible simply because the PPP/C Administration wanted to keep its manifesto promise to the people. He reminded that the liberalisation of the telecoms sector actually took some 14 years of work, beginning under the previous PPP/C Administration and continuing under the former APNU/AFC regime.

US$44M tax debt

In July 2016, the APNU/AFC Government passed the Telecommunication (Amendment) Bill to liberalise the telecoms sector – however, the Commencement Orders to fully bring to force the Act was never issued.

Under the former coalition Government, it was reported that the liberalisation of the sector was heavily dependent upon the settlement of a US$44 million tax claim against GTT by the Guyana Revenue Authority.

According to those reports, the local telecommunication giant wanted the tax debt settled before moving ahead with liberalisation.

When asked about this, PM Phillips explained that GTT still owes the taxes and that there were no “trade-offs” in the decision to fully liberalise the telecommunications sector.

“Whatever tax is owed, as far as I’m concerned…that did not and should not affect the road to liberalisation. Because after we liberalised, they [GTT] owe tax and they still have to pay the tax,” the Prime Minister said, adding that “you still have to pay the tax or negotiate some settlement,” Prime Minister Phillips said.

When asked if discussions were had on a settlement negotiation, the Prime Minister said: “Well we haven’t discussed that as yet…I would assume that there will be some approaches to deal with that issue.”

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had announced during a press conference a few days before the full liberalisation, that there will be no conditions for the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in Guyana.

“The law was passed already, so the tax matters would all have to be discussed, but the liberalisation is not dependent on that – dependent on a settlement there. If that’s the case, then GTT could say we never reached a settlement with you, then you can never liberalise. So that is not a condition of liberalisation – reaching an agreement on the tax matter,” Jagdeo had asserted.

Benefits

VP Jagdeo had announced that the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector will set the stage for the installation of 5G services here, increased competition to allow for more fibre optic cables to come in, operation of data, among other benefits.

Indeed, the two major industry players – GTT and Digicel – have since announced a number of initiatives following the liberalisation.

For instance, GTT has announced a 600 per cent upgrade in broadband speeds for businesses. It has also zero-rated some educational websites for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Digicel, it has recently launched itself as a digital operator that would be offering more to customers through a suite of apps such as for music, news, local radio, podcasts, messaging, marketplaces, and cloud storage.