AT&T accuses GT&T of extreme 'whip sawing'

Guyana Chronicle
January 21, 2000

THE row between the United States giant AT&T and the local phone company GT&T over the blocking of phone calls from the U.S. took a new turn yesterday with AT&T accusing GT&T of "extremely anti-competitive practices".

Callers from the U.S. are again complaining that they find it difficult to phone into Guyana and GT&T (Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company) yesterday said it does not have anything to do with these fresh problems.

GT&T Deputy General Manager, Mr Terry Holder told the Chronicle he was aware of the complaints but said the local phone company's circuits were open.

But he said that persons in the U.S. finding it difficult to call Guyana are primarily customers of AT&T.

According to Holder, investigations showed the call difficulties were only at peak hours and these ease at non-peak periods.

U.S. callers said they have been unable to get through since last week. (See letter on page six.)

When the difficulties first surfaced at the beginning of the year, GT&T accused

AT&T of being behind the disruption but the U.S. firm charged that it was the local company that began blocking calls from midnight December 31 last because it was not agreeing to a lower accounting rate.

AT&T said GT&T had adjusted its circuits from midnight December 31 after an agreement between the two ended.

GT&T acknowledged adjusting its circuits and advised its customers here to tell those having difficulties calling them from the U.S. to switch from AT&T to MCI or Sprint.

AT&T yesterday claimed GT&T severed its circuits with AT&T from January 1.

AT&T spokesperson, Ms Karyn Vaughn-Fritz told the Chronicle GT&T was "engaging in an extreme case of `whip sawing'", a term recognised in the telecommunciations industry to mean cutting service and not negotiating.

"GT&T severed circuits with AT&T on January 1. They refused to negotiate with AT&T and they are even telling people to use dial around numbers to access other carriers", she said.

"These are extremely anti-competitive practices that hurt innocent consumers", Vaughn-Fritz said.

She said AT&T remained committed to negotiating with GT&T "when they are ready to return to the negotiating table".

Mr Cornelius Prior, Chairman of GT&T and its parent company Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), earlier this month admitted that GT&T should have informed customers that its contract with AT&T for calls from the U.S. to this country could have ended abruptly on December 31.

He told a press conference at the GTV Channel 11 studios in Georgetown that it came as a big surprise that AT&T had eventually kept its word and terminated its operating agreement with GT&T.

According to Prior, the local company did not think AT&T would have risked losing its customers by taking such action.

Prior said MCI, another U.S. carrier was now paying GT&T US$0.85 to terminate calls in Guyana which AT&T refused to pay after December 31, pressing for a lower accounting rate of US$0.23.

He said GT&T has the exact form of contract with MCI that it had with AT&T, which requires one year advance notice of termination.

Asked what will happen when MCI brings down accounting rates in keeping with a U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ruling that puts a ceiling on the rates paid to foreign telephone companies by U.S. phone firms, for calls originating from the U.S., Prior said it was not clear that MCI will abide with that.

The company is continuing to explore with its lawyers in Washington D.C. the actions it can take to keep GT&T's rates at the current levels, he said.

Prior said the numbers from phone traffic then showed that the situation had gone back to normal and the AT&T action had not had any lasting damage.

He said callers were getting through on AT&T circuits but could not say which was the carrier to Guyana.

"I am happy to say that although there was some inconvenience for the American customers on AT&T, it was a very temporary situation...the lines have now been completely re-routed through MCI and traffic is back to normal from the United States," he reiterated.

Although there appeared to have been an unblocking of the calls from the U.S. with AT&T customers being able to call Guyana without trouble after the initial spat, the problem resurfaced again last week.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples