Phone company in showdown with Internet groups

by Robert Bazil
Guyana Chronicle
February 3, 2000

SHOWDOWN: participants at yesterday's meeting.

INTERNET Service Providers (ISPs) and information technology operatives yesterday clashed with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) and persons sympathetic to the company, over whether some Internet services should be free or regulated.

GT&T was heavily criticised for blocking access to certain Internet services (mainly making phone calls on the Internet) but officials and others argued that the company's revenue will be undermined without the checks.

The clashes came at a meeting called by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) at the Main Street Plaza Hotel, Georgetown following GT&T's threat to block certain Internet services related to making telephone calls on the net.

As the debate heated up, arguments broke out over the agenda and whether people were straying away from it.

After one speaker criticised GT&T for blocking some Internet services and made reference to personnel of the phone company, PUC Chairman, Mr P.J. Menon intervened to bring order to the meeting.

He declared: "I didn't appreciate the remarks of the previous speaker specifically mentioning personnel of GT& was in bad taste and I would like to expunge all those comments made by him, personally, against any of the officers of GT&T".

"...But the points he made about blocking certain services to Internet providers, they were valid...what was not valid was the remark he made by name in regard to some of the officers in GT&T...those were in bad taste, out of order and we will remove them from the records of today's proceedings."

The speaker, who has an Internet service, had also called on the PUC and the government to have more than one Internet carrier in Guyana to allow competition.

But Menon explained that the PUC had taken up the question of GT&T's monopoly licence, adding that the company moved to the courts and the matter has been pending there for a long time, while other courts in other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries decided that the monopolies granted were not valid.

The participant maintained that making telephone calls through the Internet was cheaper and consumers have the right to decide whether they want to make cheap calls or not.

Contributors at the meeting complained to the PUC that the phone company has been restricting access to `Dialpad and `net to phone'.

Menon announced that a special hearing will be scheduled in two weeks to deal with the blocking of sites by GT&T.

The agenda yesterday dealt with issues relating to the developing of Internet and other telecom network services in Guyana, with particular reference to measures to be taken for that purpose, and solutions to any obstacles that exist in regard to the development of such services.

Another person felt that while the regulation of the Internet in Guyana should be ceased, that level of involvement by the PUC ought to concern itself primarily with the infrastructural matters - how the Internet is connected to Guyana, who may offer connectivity and what those terms are.

"The retail side and what happens on the platform which we call the Internet ought not be an act of the PUC...I don't think the PUC has the capacity to keep in touch with the pace of change in services over this platform," he added.

GT&T official, Mr Gene Evelyn felt that part of the confusion the meeting was faced with yesterday was caused by the PUC because of the nature of the agenda.

"What we are discussing this afternoon in essence, is the IT (Information Technology) industry...we are discussing integrated services...and the network," he said.

Evelyn said it is not possible to discuss information technology and information technology issues and leave out the linchpin of information technology - the carrier, the telecommunications industry.

Stating that information technology was changing rapidly, Evelyn said that what is happening, in essence, was that bodies like the PUC all over the world, were unable to keep apace with what was happening.

He argued that regulation was unable to keep up with the technology, adding that no one wanted to regulate the Internet, but where there is a new technology like software, which provides voice over the utility, then clearly the regulator must see that there is a place for some amount of regulation and drawing the line.

Another member in the audience said that the Internet, nowhere outside of Guyana was regulated and the content cannot be regulated.

He emphasised that the Internet is not the World Wide Web, but it only enables the web.

"GT&T is the local telco and they can only supply local connectivity...information technology and the Internet moves at lightning speed...what you are now seeing is what we were doing in California, five or seven years ago," he said.

Maintaining that the Internet is not regulated anywhere in the world, he said that providers usually buy their ISP numbers from networks, and in buying those numbers, sign an agreement which GT&T had to sign, which forbids them from doing certain things one of which is that "they must provide universal connectivity."

Another member asked GT&T to say whether the calls being made on the Internet are international calls. "It is not an international call," he declared.

"...It is not and we are not using the system...we are not locking up the system...I am paying for my Internet and have 24 hours seven days a week unlimited and I am paying for that through my provider," he said.