Guyana’s long-awaited Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill has been passed into law after narrowly clearing a parliamentary vote, with 33 MPs in favour and 32 against. The legislation is designed to liberalise the fixed line market and paves the way for the government to end the monopoly of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) on international voice and data transmission, Demerara Waves reports. In addition, the bill included reforms to the nation’s regulatory structure, such as the creation of a new watchdog, the Telecommunication Agency, that would incorporate the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) and oversee the sector alongside existing regulator the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, reforms to the telecommunication sector have been under way since 2009, but have been delayed and postponed on numerous occasions. One of the major barriers to passing the bill was a dispute between the government and Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), GTT’s parent company, over the operator’s monopoly status: ATN claimed that it would be entitled to damages and other compensation if GTT’s monopoly was ended through any means not agreed with the telco.
The bill has had a mixed response, with opposition politicians praising the passing of the critical legislation but warning that it may concentrate too much power in the hands of the telecommunication minister. Similarly, Digicel and GTT were cautiously optimistic about the reforms. A spokesperson for the former described the ‘laudable achievement’ as merely the first step towards the long overdue ending of GTT’s monopolies. For its part, GTT’s stance has remained unchanged, with the operator saying that it supported opening the market but adding that it would only be possible through negotiations between the telco and the government.