BTC patches up network, calls for licence fee changes

7 Feb 2014

Wireless monopoly provider Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) has revealed that it will have invested more than USD18 million in upgrading its wireless network in the year to-end March 2014, including USD3 million on six new towers in New Providence. Tribune 242 quotes a senior BTC official as saying that the telco has been improving its mobile infrastructure in preparation for the end of its legal monopoly in April this year and the arrival of competition later this year. However, BTC’s rollouts have been partially driven by increasing demand, in particular for data services. Marlon Johnson, BTC’s VP of brand and communication noted that the six new towers are being built in response to customer complaints and to relieve network congestion in ‘hot spots’ such as southwestern New Providence, downtown Nassau and Palmdale. BTC’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) network is due to be launched commercially from mid-February, with new sites going live later that month and in early March.

In related news, BTC has criticised the government’s decision to seize surplus regulatory fees, questioning the independence of sector watchdog the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) and requesting a reduction in the fees imposed on telcos. BTC also called on the regulator to abandon plans to increase its own charges from 1.076% of gross revenues to 1.368%, which are paid in addition to the Communications Fee, which requires operators to pay 3% of gross turnover into government coffers. A spokesperson for the operator noted: ‘The increased taxation on the industry is cause for serious concern for BTC. URCA and the central government should revisit the issues of fees, as they have the potential to stifle growth of the telecommunications industry.’

Commenting on the government’s seizure of excess fees, the official went on:‘BTC is of the view that the URCA (Amendment) Act 2013 has had the effect of diminishing the goodwill between operators, and URCA and the Minister with responsibility for that authority. The requirement for URCA to transfer surplus to the centralised Consolidated Fund has resulted in operators being deprived of the funds that would ordinarily have been returned to them after URCA had expended funds in accordance with its budget. The amendment has effectively prevented the USD1.16 million income in the Electronic Communications Fund for 2012 from being refunded to licensees as originally mandated by the Act, in effect offsetting the fees charged or 2013.’

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