Pressure mounts over phone industry problems - Luncheon reports

By Nivedta Kowlessar
Guyana Chronicle
March 11, 2000

HEIGHTENED interest and growing pressure have led Cabinet to seek a comprehensive answer to concerns about the telecommunications sector, a top government official said yesterday.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon told journalists the government recognises "major concerns" related to "unmet consumer expectations" and other issues, leading it to look for a "comprehensive resolution."

He referred to the financial operations of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) and the way technological developments are being addressed by the monopoly firm and not by developers.

"It has been pointed out, and I believe this is an unassailable position, that the density of telephone service, telephone lines, in Guyana is unacceptably low and it is indeed inconsistent with domestic expectations, whether geographic or per capita.

"It is also clear that the current developments, both internally and externally, threaten the financial soundness of GT&T (and its parent company) ATN (Atlantic Tele-Network)," Luncheon noted at his regular fortnightly briefing at the GTV studios in Georgetown.

He said it has been pointed out that the rate-based regulatory environment poses a "major bone of contention" between GT&T and the watchdog Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Another contentious issue is the way in which competition is embraced in pursuit of technological advances.

Luncheon, also Cabinet Secretary, said the reality and recent presentations of viewpoints heighten the need for mutually beneficial progress.

"It is quite clear that the future of those industries that depend on technology and the future of the firm are both inextricably linked and the situation can hardly continue without (an early) resolution".

GT&T and the PUC have been at loggerheads over several issues relating to the management and regulation of the sector and Luncheon said Cabinet feels there is "growing pressure for a comprehensive resolution".

"That view," he added, "has arisen from a better understanding of the industry and a precise compilation/categorisation of the mutual concerns of the parties."

Explaining Cabinet's `thinking' on the matter, Luncheon said the government is going for a resolution that would address all issues simultaneously, instead of a piecemeal approach that may involve usual resorts to the courts and lead to interminable delays, frustrating economic and technological development.

"Once that agreement, resolution is there, all the parties would get on board and be prepared to work in a new climate.

"What we're looking at hopefully, is the pressure of time, the pressure of those external constraints on the industry, the pressure of demand creating in the players' minds, certainly in the pocket, that there is need to resolve this issue for once and for all.

"That is what Cabinet is working on at this point in time," he said.

Luncheon said interest from the international private sector and frequent engagements between ATN Chairman, Mr Cornelius Prior and company "all reflect a growing convergence that we better solve this thing."

But he noted the need to appreciate the delicate nature of current issues and to tie all partners in the adopted way forward before Cabinet makes an official and definitive pronouncement.

An existing Cabinet sub-committee, Luncheon said, has been recently energised by the domestic realities, a reaching out by all partners, and increased information about the industry internationally, building the momentum for a resolution.