Govt announces liberalisation of telecoms sector

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PRESS STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER OF THE COOPERATIVE REPUBLIC OF GUYANA, BRIGADIER MARK PHILLIPS (RTD.) M.P.

As subject Minister with responsibility for Telecommunications, I am pleased to announce that the Government of Guyana has issued Commencement Orders fully bringing into force the Telecommunications Act 2016 (the “Act”) and the Public Utilities Commission Act 2016, within two months of assuming office.

The commencement of these Acts is nothing less than historic, aligning Guyana’s telecommunications regime to those found in other countries in the world, including most Caribbean countries, ending a thirty-year-old anti-competitive telecommunications monopoly, that has left Guyanese weary, frustrated and lagging behind in the telecommunications arena.

It is anticipated that Guyanese will feel an immediate positive impact from the implementation of these legislation, which create a modern and competitive environment for telecommunications, and which will immediately result in greater choices, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers, while at the same time ensuring that all operators continue to enjoy all benefits conferred under the old legislative regime. This decisive step is consistent with our Government’s vision of furthering national and regional social and economic development.

The legislation specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunications networks and services into unserved and underserved areas through the institution of a new universal access/universal services programme.

The legislation creates a clear, harmonised framework and a level playing field for the sector that is currently lacking, and which are characterised by transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licences and authorisations to use the spectrum, seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks and services, and price regulation where required to ensure competition and at the same time guarantees equal treatment of stakeholders, to the ultimate benefit and protection of consumers.

The Telecommunications Act 2016 was first laid by our Government in the 9th Parliament in August 2011, and laid again in the 10th Parliament in 2012, after extensive consultations with both the public and operators. During the life of both Parliaments, the Act enjoyed commendable bipartisan support. It spent considerable time before a select committee, chaired by Carl Greenidge, and included Former Prime Minister Samuels Hinds, and then Minister Mohamed Irfaan Ali.

The Act was finalised before the 2015 elections and was enacted by the Coalition Government in 2016 by Minister Catherine Hughes, again with bipartisan support. It must be emphasised that these legislation straddled administrations, and were the subject of extensive negotiations with stakeholders which lasted nearly a decade.

Although the benefits of the Act were well known to the APNU/AFC Coalition, for some inexplicable reason in 2018 and again in 2019, APNU/AFC only brought a few sections of the Act into force, frustrating the intent and objective of the Act by denying Guyanese the benefits flowing therefrom.

No doubt, the effects of liberalisation will be felt countrywide at a time when enhanced, universal and competitive access to telecommunications is pivotal to Guyana’s developmental trajectory. In face of the Covid-19 crisis, it assumes even greater significance.

The Government of Guyana remains ready and willing to work with all stakeholders to ensure that every Guyanese has affordable access to quality and modern services which they so badly deserve, as well as ensuring that the existing operators suffer no disadvantage whatsoever as they continue business in the sector.

I take this opportunity to thank all those involved, who were able to quickly simplify and deliver the complex task of liberalisation in the short time assigned.