AT&T and GT&T resume links By Abigail Kippins
Guyana Chronicle
November 6, 2001

THE United States telecommunications giant AT&T has successfully completed talks with the local telephone company and with immediate effect the two are back in business, GT&T Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Sonita Jagan announced yesterday.

" took a little longer than expected but happily we have now resumed terms", she told a news conference at the GT&T (Guyana Telephone and Telegraph) head office in Georgetown.

She said tests were done on the circuits/transmission lines over the weekend and AT&T was reprogramming its switches for operation, which was necessary since GT&T had switched to seven digits earlier this year while the two companies were not doing business.

"We are hopeful that we will have AT&T traffic flowing in any time soon", Jagan said.

She said GT&T has started to send some of its traffic outbound via AT&T circuits just to make sure everything was running smoothly, adding that the company's resumption with AT&T had not deterred its relations with MCI and Sprint. Another direct option is simply available to callers, she explained.

AT&T and GT&T reopened negotiations last year following their fallout in 1999 over the reduction of termination rates. The dispute had a serious impact on calls coming into Guyana during that time.

Callers from the United States and Canada had faced great difficulties in trying to telephone Guyana and the two companies blamed each other for the apparent blockage.

GT&T, in August last year switched to MCI, another major American telecommunications firm and later, with Sprint, the major U.S. long distance carrier.

Ironically, AT&T is resuming operations with the local company at the same rate that had triggered the dispute. AT&T was pushing for a rate decline from US85 cents to US23 cents.

However, the US85 cents rate will be only until December 31 this year, Jagan explained. She said that from January 1 next year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order kicks in which brings the rates U.S. carriers pay to Guyana down from US85 cents to US23 cents.

She said GT&T was still anxiously awaiting the conclusion to the rate-filing it made with the watchdog Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and hopes that by January 1 next year, there will be some proper rate structure or variations thereof that will come into effect with the FCC order. The reduction will bring with it a significant reduction in GT&T revenues, Jagan said.

She recalled that when the filing was made in 1997, it did not in fact encompass the entire decrease from US85 cents to US23 cents but from US85 cents to about US50-65 cents.

The rate increase at the local level that GT&T has applied for will probably not be sufficient to compensate for the direct hit, she said, adding that the company was hoping that when the US23 cents kicks in, AT&T, MCI and Sprint will adjust their collection rate because even though the US23 cents is what they would pay GT&T, it is not what they would collect from their consumers.

"If AT&T and MCI reduce their collection rate to the consumers in the U.S., it can take the effect of stimulating a volume increase in traffic and if that stimulates a sufficiently high enough increase in volume to offset, then the local rates will not have to go up significantly to compensate for that loss", she explained.

She said at this point, GT&T and maybe the PUC have no way of knowing how high the local rates would increase until data was collected probably during the first quarter of next year.

"What we are asking for is an intermediary increase so that the company would not be in a position where it cannot even sustain its general operations."

Meanwhile, the company's expansion programme aimed at improving its current service in addition to increasing the cellular customer base, is ongoing.

The US$4M programme which commenced last month has since eased the congestion in cellular service, Jagan said.

She added that the expansion covered not only upgrading cellular sites and switch but also significantly upgraded the prepaid card platform.

The company has also installed a new site at Beterverwagting, East Coast Demerara to improve the poor reception callers experience along the coast.

"We have strong coverage through Georgetown to Parika and Georgetown to Mahaica, for instance, in addition to where we had existing coverage..."

In relation to the Georgetown cellular service, Jagan said that since GT&T was able to reduce rates to cater for the "ordinary" people, there has been an increased demand and the company was now also able to analyse the high/low traffic areas at specific times.

She said the company will continue the "finetuning" and areas where channels were distributed evenly will be revisited and channels redistributed to cater for areas that have more traffic during the day.

Channels will be lessened in areas that do not require the number opened there.

Jagan said the company was pleased with the growth in its cellular service and will continue putting resources into it while not forgetting the land line connections.