GT&T maintains it has no control over U.S. phone calls problem

Guyana Chronicle
September 8, 2000

THE Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) has no control over problems that have surfaced with incoming calls from North America into Guyana, a spokesman said yesterday.

Guyanese living in Canada and the United States have for several months been complaining about not being able to make telephone contact with relatives here.

Persons claim their efforts are met with a recorded message that the number they are dialing is not in service although the lines are fully installed.

Deputy General Manager at GT&T, Mr Terry Holder conceded that the problem surfaced at the turn of the year, and it followed failure by the American giant AT&T and GT&T and its parent company ATN to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the reduction of what is called the accounting rate for calls between the U.S. and Guyana.

"It is out of our control...It is at this point of time out of our hands," Holder maintained.

He said it was hoped that AT&T can demonstrate "some responsibility to its own customers and assist them" in having their calls terminated in Guyana.

AT&T had sought to impose on Guyana a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ruling, imposing a ceiling in August 1997 on the rates paid to foreign telephone companies by U.S. phone companies for calls from the U.S., he argued.

He said the notice spelt to the world that American telephone companies needed to protect U.S. customers since the number of calls leaving the U.S. outnumbered the calls into that country.

That ruling was concerned only with U.S. customers and was introduced in order to reverse an unfavourable hard currency balance of payments. It was a move widely opposed around the world, Holder reported.

He told the Chronicle the revenue coming from the U.S. had over the years allowed GT&T to maintain the lowest telephone rates in the Caribbean region.

Up to the start of 1998, Guyanese were paying about G$35 per month for telephone rental.

But, with the reduction of revenues it is expected that subsidies which allow for "cheap" telephone calls, will have to be stripped, he said.

Holder explained that the company in the country in which the call originates has to pay a charge at an agreed rate to the company in the country in which the call terminates.

When someone in Guyana calls the USA, GT&T collects the charge from the customer and has to pay at the agreed rate to AT&T which is sometimes higher than the amount paid by the caller to GT&T.

When the call originates in the USA, AT&T has to pay GT&T at the agreed rate for terminating the call. GT&T benefits when calls are terminated in the country.

Revenue from incoming international calls is used to develop the local system and keep down rates for local service, Holder said.

Holder said GT&T has been seeking to protect its customers here by keeping the accounting rate high much to the displeasure of AT&T.

GT&T/ATN had argued that a reduction of the accounting rate would result in substantial reduction in revenue to GT&T and to Guyana, and result in a hike in phone bills for the average customer.

ATN insisted on the reduction of the accounting rate, and in December 1998 gave one year's notice of terminating the service agreement between AT&T and GT&T, he said.

GT&T continued to negotiate with AT&T during 1999 for the best rate possible for Guyana but those talks were ultimately unsuccessful, he said.

AT&T's Regional Managing Director (Caribbean Operations), Mr Robert Santana wrote to GT&T: "We regret to acknowledge that the International Telephone Service Agreement between AT&T Corporation and GT&T Limited(GT&T) entered into on November 1, 1978, will terminate on December 31, 1999.

"After January 1, 2000 AT&T will no longer settle traffic with GT&T at the existing rate."

Holder said GT&T has since been trying alternatives routes with MCI and Sprint for overseas-based Guyanese desirous of contacting their homeland.

GT&T is claiming there is no need for overseas-based AT&T subscribers to switch from that service to another.

"...If you are an AT&T member and you really want to make contact with Guyana, you can use either Sprint or MCI or several other international carriers in the United States," Holder pointed out.

He admitted, however, that AT&T members have a reluctance to go to any other carrier.

Since the problem with AT&T earlier this year, GT&T said it was losing revenue for each external call not allowed access here.

ATN, its parent body, is engaged in continuous negotiations with AT&T, Holder said.

GT&T, in correspondence with AT&T, urged that the two companies should focus on the smooth and efficient migration of AT&T's U.S. outbound traffic to Guyana and offered to assist AT&T in whatever ways necessary to eliminate the possibility of service disruptions or customer inconvenience.

GT&T said it had sought suggestions from AT&T on how to route the U.S. outbound traffic to Guyana since AT&T has interconnection agreements that would permit it to route calls to Guyana through any other carrier.

"AT&T should be routing them (telephone calls from abroad) through MCI or Sprint but (it is) not doing so," Holder claimed.

He added: "They (AT&T) have the capacity to do that but they have not been doing that. (And) that is why there is a problem."

"I imagine they (AT&T) will continue to do this type of thing until there is some agreement that we will lower that accounting rate...I don't know how long we can continue to have customers inconvenienced. I think the time will come (when) the accounting rates (must) be lowered.

"...A practical decision will have to be taken. We (GT&T) will have to come to the point that as long as we lose revenues (it) will have to come from the domestic market," he noted.

Holder said GT&T welcomed as many foreign calls as possible since that provides for more revenue. (SHARON LALL)

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