Contract with telecoms reform expert signed

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
September 5, 2000

US telecommunications expert, William Garrison has been contracted by the government as its senior advisor to put in train plans to modernise the telecommunications sector and allow for competition in two years.

Stabroek News understands that Garrison signed a contract with the government electronically on August 31st, paving the way for his expertise to be used by the government to reform the sector.

Garrison will be project manager for the reform process and will be a key advisor to Prime Minister Sam Hinds. Garrison was ranked number one from a group of seven consultants short-listed to be the senior telecommunications advisor to the government. Garrison had visited Guyana earlier this year to deliver a lecture on a modern telecommunications sector.

The Washington-based expert is currently tasked with preparing an action plan containing time lines for the reform which is expected to include renegotiation of certain aspects of the phone company's monopoly licence. Garrison is expected to spend a substantial amount of his contract time in Guyana and may be here in two weeks to present the government with the action plan he has designed.

The government is receiving getting US$1.1M from the Multilateral Investment Fund, the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to fund the expertise required to reform the telecommunications/information sector.

It is expected that as a result of this MIF project, there will be: competition in all telecommunications services within two years; a transparent and non-discriminatory interconnection policy; at least three cellular telephone service companies operating; a government commitment to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for competition in basic telecommunications; and a legislative framework that facilitates the introduction of competition and caters for a modern telecommunications sector.

Certain aspects of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company's licence will have to be renegotiated to allow for competition and an audit of the company's accounts will also be done to ascertain what the cost of calls should be.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds said at the August 18 signing of the technical cooperation agreement with the MIF that his government looks forward to tough but cordial negotiations with GT&T.

The project consists of five components: formulation of a strategy for modernisation of the sector, reform of the legal/regulatory framework, development of a network cost model and audit of the GT&T, carrying out outreach/training activities and technical support for the principal regulatory agency - the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Garrison is expected to support the working group of the Cabinet sub-committee to formulate a vision and strategy for the sector.

Fundamental to the reform exercise will be a complete overhaul of the present legal and regulatory framework for the telecommunications and information services sector. This is the second component and requires an assessment of the 1990 purchase agreement entered into with Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) and the licence granted to GT&T to determine which areas could be opened to competition in the existing environment. It also entails development of new legislation or amendment of current laws and the preparation of a model licence for prospective operators. A review of interconnection arrangements and the development of the necessary regulations for interconnection, other regulations relating to licensing, a universal service fund, leasing of unbundled facilities, spectrum management and the administration of numbers will also be developed.

It is proposed that Guyana will follow a model where a state-owned, semi-autonomous agency will be responsible for licensing, spectrum management and number administration, while the "Regulator" will be responsible for other regulatory matters.

The third component of the project, is a financial audit of the telephone company to determine the cost basis for rates to final users and for interconnection charges to other operations. The audit would give an indication of cost-oriented rates for all other operators. It is intended that renegotiation with GT&T for a modification of the licence will commence after the legal and financial audits would have been completed.

The fourth component of the project is an outreach programme of seminars to inform consumers, regulators, lawyers, the magistracy, the judiciary, and civil society of the benefits that will be expected from the reform and to generally sensitise the public of the Government's policy.

The final component involves strengthening regulatory capability for which a long-term advisor to support the regulatory body would be funded as part of the project.

Apart from "full competition in the sector within two years", Hinds said that the benefits of the reform would be business development opportunities for private sector interests in telecommunications, information technology and electronic commerce.

Guyana is expected to develop electronic call centres and engage in electronic trade as benefits of such a reform. The government expects to see new investments in this area before the completion of the project.

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