Phone users caught in middle of stand-off between GT&T, US firm
By Gitanjali Singh
January 8, 2000
The US telecommunications company AT&T says it was the local phone operator GT&T which terminated the direct circuit with it, making it impossible for some persons to call Guyana since December 31.
But the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) yesterday pointed out that AT&T has said it expected the link to be cut at the end of last year since the two sides had not clinched a new carrier deal.
Compounding the problem, AT&T has also refused to re-route customers' calls using other carriers to ensure that the calls are terminated in Guyana.
Both firms claim they have been acting in their own best interest.
GT&T's action was to ensure that it was not burdened with a lower accounting rate from US$1.70 to US$0.46 and the AT&T action is influenced by its desire not to pay higher than US$0.46 for calls to Guyana.
"I am not sure what benefit it would be for us to route calls through other carriers," AT&T's Public Relations official, Valerie Hassleback told Stabroek News yesterday.
Customers trying to contact Guyana directly since January 1 were met with "circuit busy" recordings and customers trying to connect with the US via AT&T operators have been met with an answering service saying that the 165 number is no longer available. Instead numbers for the MCI operator, 177 or 0177 are being provided.
Terrence Holder, GT&T's spokesman said yesterday that AT&T terminated a contract and it has an obligation to use other carriers to get its customers' calls to Guyana through. He said that GT&T still sends calls to the US and gets to AT&T customers.
"We have not blocked anything," Holder stated and alluded to the December 14 letter from AT&T where the firm advised GT&T if it did not agree with its principle of lowering the accounting rate between the two carriers, it expects the direct circuit between the two companies to be terminated.
Holder accused AT&T of frustrating its own customers as it has the capability to route traffic to get calls to the destinations and can use its resources to get to Guyana. However, Holder would not say if GT&T proceeded to terminate the direct circuit with AT&T.
He said adjustments were made to accomodate MCI and Sprint via the circuit. He was not in a position to say what would be the accounting rate if AT&T was to route customers through other carriers to get to Guyana.
But Hassleback said it was GT&T which has restricted direct access to Guyana.
"GT&T has cut their circuit to AT&T," she asserts and said the firm is still negotiating a settlement of the issue with GT&T.
She said that for the past 13 years the accounting rate was US$1.70 to Guyana and AT&T wanted this reduced in keeping with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that it should be US$0.46 cents per minute. This, she said, would mean lower rates for customers.
However, asked about re-routing calls to Guyana as persons wanting to contact Guyana might get frustrated going through other carriers whilst still using AT&T and might switch to these carriers, Hassleback said that AT&T's first priority is to settle the issue with GT&T so as to properly serve its customers. She said negotiations are ongoing.
She noted that eventually all the US carriers would have to comply with the FCC ruling to lower the accounting rate to US$0.46 cents to Guyana.
AT&T terminated its agreement with GT&T on December 31 and GT&T put in place measures for other carriers to carry its load. Holder said GT&T put in a lot of work for a smooth transition from AT&T to MCI but did not anticipate that AT&T would not re-route the calls to Guyana. This was why customers were not notified before January 1 about the possible disruptions which they would face.
Holder also said that AT&T has an obligation to its customers in the US to let them know that they cannot access Guyana directly.
GT&T's income has been heavily skewed in the area of incoming calls and the lower accounting rates are expected to impact negatively on the firm's bottom line.
GT&T is to hold a press conference on the AT&T issue on Monday.
GT&T says its refusal to permit lower accounting rates is in line with advice from the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organisations (CANTO). It said that CANTO has advised against rushing into accelerated downward adjustments of accounting rates since a decision on the US push for lower tariffs is to be made by the International Telecommunications Union or by the World Telcommunications Standardisation Conference later this year.
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