Telecommunications Liberalization

Guyana’s long-awaited Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill was passed into law in July 2016. The legislation was designed to liberalize the fixed line telephone market and it paves the way to end the exclusivity of fixed line, international voice and data services by one company, and ultimately to attract small to large scale investments to the ICT and telecommunications sector in Guyana. This of course, will increase the availability and affordability of internet access. In addition, the Bill included reforms to the existing regulatory structure, such as the creation of theTelecommunications Agency.

This Agency will incorporate the functions of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) and the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), and it will perform oversight of the telecommunications and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector alongside the existing regulator, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The Telecommunications Bill was first introduced in 2011 and then revised in 2013. It had been sent to a Special Select Committee in the 10th Parliament and was still under consideration in 2014 when the Parliament was prorogued.

When the coalition acceded to government in 2015, the bill was placed on the front burner and a revision was written. A series of consultations were then undertaken with Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Co. Ltd (GTT), Digicel, the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the University of Guyana (UG), several NGOs and other stakeholders before it was refined and returned to the National Assembly. President Granger signed the Telecommunications Amendment Bill into law in 2016.

The Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2016 came with an Explanatory Memorandum. Here is an abridged version:

“The Telecommunications Bill 2016 provides for an open, liberalized and competitive telecommunications sector that will be attractive to investors, while preserving the activities of the current sector participants. By creating a competitive environment for telecommunications, the Bill is expected to (provide) greater choice, better quality of service and lower prices for consumers. The Bill also specifically addresses the (extension) of existing telecommunications networks and services into un-served and under-served areas through a new universal access/universal services programme.”

An accompanying comprehensive set of  regulations were also drafted and they create a clear, harmonized framework and a level playing field for the sector that is currently lacking. It puts Guyana’s regulatory framework on par with those found in other countries in the Caribbean and the more developed countries.

The new legal framework is characterized by transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licences and authorisations to use the spectrum. It provides for seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks and services. It addresses price regulations to ensure competition and protect consumers.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Act 19 0f 2016 repeals and replaces the Public Utilities Commission Act, Cap 57:01. It is composed of:

(1) The provisions of the Public Utilities Commission Act 1999 as amended by Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Act, 2003 (No. 7 of 2003) and Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Act 2010 (No. 16 of 2010), and (2) the provisions that are required to complement and harmonize with the Telecommunications Bill No. 15 of 2016.

This Act does not disturb the existing harmony with the Electricity Sector Reform Act (ESRA) or any other law governing “public utilities” under the PUC’s jurisdiction.

Originally, the provisions that are required to complement the Telecommunications Bill No. 15 of 2016 were prepared as yet another amending Bill to the PUC Act. The government, however, formed the opinion that it would be cumbersome for anyone to have to read the PUC Act and still have to refer to the Principal PUC Act of 1999 along with the three Amending Bills.

As such, it was decided to prepare a consolidated PUC Bill that incorporates the PUC Amendment Acts of 2003 and 2010 and the new provisions related to the telecommunications sector. Thus was created the new consolidated PUC Act..

Under this bill, the PUC will continue to function as the economic regulator of the telecommunications sector with responsibility for ensuring:-

* A competitive environment

* Seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks

* Price regulation only where required to protect consumers and competition, with the expectation of greater choice, better service quality and lower prices

The PUC will carry out these functions in a manner that is specific to the proper regulation of an open, competitive telecommunications sector – something that the 1999 Act which is more appropriate for the regulation of monopolies, did not provide for.

This new Bill accomplishes this by several means:

1) It creates a new definition for “telecommunications undertakings”, which will now be a different term from “public utility” used for other utilities over which the PUC exercises jurisdiction.

The new term refers to any operator of telecommunications networks, provider of telecommunications services or other person that is subject to the Telecommunications Bill. The Bill ensures that only those telecommunications undertakings that provide services to or for the public will be regulated by the PUC.

2) The Bill ensures that the PUC’s activities with regard to telecommunications are governed by both the PUC Act and the Telecommunications Act.

3) The Bill ensures that the PUC’s functions in areas of rate-setting and regulating service quality are governed by the Telecommunications Act rather than by the provisions of the PUC Act.