Phone company ups the ante
Cellular application for hearing today

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
October 10, 2000

The local phone company heightened its lobby for caller party pays (CPP) and pre-paid cellular card services yesterday, on the eve of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing into its applications.

Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd (GT&T), Sonita Jagan, asserted that CPP will offer both land-line and cellular customers a choice in deciding to make and to accept these calls. Currently, only cellular users could decide whether they were willing to pay for calls made to them from a land-line. At present cellular phone holders pay for both incoming and outgoing calls. Under GT&T's CPP application, land-line users will pay for the calls they make to cellular phones at cellular rates.

Jagan said under CPP, upon dialling a cellular number, land-line users would be informed that they had dialled a cellular service he/she has dialled and the charges be per minute. Callers would also be informed that they could immediately hang up and incur no expense or go ahead with the call at the rates stated.

Gene Evelyn, a senior executive of GT&T with responsibility for cellular services, said CPP was now a universal service and GT&T wanted to reposition its cellular service to make it affordable and less of a premium service.

Courts Guyana Inc and the Bank of Nova Scotia have been named as part of GT&T's proposed plan to make cellular phones available to customers on credit and to make the service accessible countrywide. Customers could access cellular services through this avenue and take advantage of the proposed pre-paid cellular card to make calls. They will not be required to furnish a security deposit, only the proposed activation charge, set at $4500 as compared with the present $10,658. Those who want their relatives abroad to send them handsets should request a TDMA compatible digital set not for use in Europe.

Pat Hinds, GT&T's commercial manager, said GT&T was moving its cellular service into a direction of competition and argued that nobody wanted to wait until they got home to return a call to someone trying their cell number.

She said making cellular service easily accessible to all would solve a number of problems for Guyanese and pointed to persons travelling from Skeldon (and other outlying areas) to the airport only to be told at Timehri that their flight has been postponed. She argued that if a family could have afforded a cell phone, they could have called on their way to the airport and avoided at least half of the inconvenience.

Hinds also noted that younger persons wanted the service and pointed to the convenience a cell phone could be for families.

As regards claims that GT&T would have unfair advantage over other cellular service providers and could put them out of business with its new proposal, Jagan stated: "We do not want to drive anyone out but to reposition the cellular market to what is happening internationally. We want to use the prices currently within the region in Guyana...we want to do what is right for GT&T and Guyana."

She said GT&T did not have the monopoly on cellular services in Guyana and since 1991, any other provider could have come in and provided services as well.

She said that based on surveys locally and internationally GT&T had decided to reposition its service as quickly and as cheaply as it could. She said the service was seen as a premium one which was stifling as persons had to pay for incoming and outgoing calls. She stated that to some extent, the cellular service had also been subsidising the local land-line services, which was why GT&T had also asked the PUC to double local rates for land-line services.

If approved, GT&T's proposed rates, published in the media on Sunday, would see its current customer base of 5,500 going up eight times. GT&T has the capacity to increase its cellular service in Georgetown by 15,000 handsets in three months as well as 6,000 to 7,000 in the outlying areas.

GT&T's application to introduce CPP and pre-paid cellular cards as well as to slash cellular rates are up for hearing today by the PUC. The PUC last month suspended the application into the hearing as Earl Singh, another operator licensed to provide a cellular service in Guyana, objected that if GT&T was allowed to proceed with its plan, it would become uneconomical for him to continue with his investment in Guyana. The suspension was necessary because if the PUC had failed to hear GT&T's application within 30 days, the rates would automatically become effective.

Singh, through his attorney, has appealed to the High Court to discharge the ruling of the PUC and this matter is up for hearing on Friday.

At today's hearing the PUC will also consider the Swansea International Associates, which has objected to a $10,657 interconnection charge being imposed by GT&T on its customers.

Swansea International argued that GT&T waived this activation charge for its customers and therefore could not discriminate against other customers. It argued that GT&T either charged everyone or no one. The PUC is expected to rule on the matter today.

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