Phone company concerned at call centres bypass

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
November 5, 2000

The local phone company is concerned that government will move to bypass its US$6M investment in the Americas II cable and allow direct satellite links for new call centres to be set up here.

"I am all for call centres but I am concerned that the government will take this bold stand to bypass our licence, especially at a time when they want to sit with us to negotiate our licence," Sonita Jagan, GT&T's General Manager told Stabroek News.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Caribbean Containers Inc (CCI) paper recycling plant last month, President Bharrat Jagdeo had stated emphatically that companies wishing to establish call centres did not have to go through the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T). He said that the government would not await the outcome of negotiations with the phone company on its monopoly on internodal traffic and added that call centre companies can use satellites to service customers.

Jagan said GT&T intends to be competitive in the market of linkages to call centres, pointing out that satellite connections will be more expensive than cable connections.

She said she thought the government would have sat with GT&T to work out utilising its capacity to the fullest. She pointed out that with the direct links to the satellite, none of the user charges filter back to Guyana. If the connection with GT&T was encouraged, she noted, the government would get increased tax payments from the company.

"We thought they would have sat with us to establish competitive prices for the benefit of Guyana," Jagan said. She noted that the investment by GT&T in its Americas II cable is no small one and she also pointed out that the GT&T licence gives it the right to the international gateway. She underscored that GT&T is very aware of the need to be competitive compared with satellite prices.

And Prime Minister Sam Hinds in a statement on Tuesday said the government's focus is to reposition Guyana to secure a foothold in the call centre and offshore services market. He told this newspaper that there have been a few serious expressions of interest in constructing call centres in Guyana and the government is ready to grant whatever licences are required for direct linkage by such centres to communications satellites.

Hinds said there have been about 10 interests expressed so far and three to four of these seem "solid". Stabroek News understands that one of the serious contenders is businessman, Yesu Persaud, who is chairman of the Demerara Distillers Limited Group.

With GT&T putting in place its Americas II cable, its parent company, Atlantic Tele Network (ATN), has advanced its plans to set up a call centre at Beterverwagting on the East Coast.

This investment is expected to come off the ground soon and other companies have been speaking to GT&T about similar activities. Call centres are seen as a source of potential employment growth in Guyana as it boasts relatively cheaper labour.

The issue of satellite telecommunications access to Guyana is also shadowing the Internet Service Provider (ISP) sector but here the government is making it clear that only licensed telecoms and phone systems can be used. I-Net, a data communications company offering corporate clients line-free access to the internet via satellite has been told by the government that it has to go through GT&T. It is not clear whether the company will go ahead and open talks with the phone company on the issue.

While the government plans to allow more Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to set up in Guyana, GT&T is saying that these providers will now have to start paying the full cost of service offered by the local phone company.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had earlier ruled that GT&T should provide the bandwidth for these ISPs but apart from the interconnection charges, there were to be no charges for providers on GT&T's network.

This, Jagan said, was to allow the internet industry to develop. However, she said if the government is going to licence more ISPs, then the industry is reaching the stage of maturity and GT&T will have to charge the providers for being on their network.

The President at the CCI function had said that provisional approval had been accorded to 10 more ISPs as part of the government's drive to push Guyana into the 21st century.

"If the government is going to licence all those people to sit on GT&T's network all day, they would have to pay to be on the local network," Jagan asserted.

She said on an average twelve million free minutes per month have been utilised by ISPs and these minutes, she insisted, are being used by the elites of society at the expense of the ordinary people because by the time the internet gets to the poor they will have to pay the full cost for being on GT&T's network.

GT&T anticipates that ISPs will establish points of presence around the country to cut out exchange charges which will be payable to GT&T.

President Jagdeo has said that he wants 50,000 households to have access to computers (and the internet) in the medium term and Jagan said she has no problem with this and will secure the required bandwidth. She said there cannot be separate satellite connections for internet services and based on the PUC Act of 1999, these ISPs are to be regulated.

Hinds in the statement said as of now, ISPs have to register with the National Frequency Management Unit and will have to agree to conform to whatever policy and regulations are eventually adopted and put in place by the government.

He also said that ISPs are viewed as services utilising the vehicles of "otherwise licensed telecommunications and telephone systems", which Jagan said, refers to service through GT&T.

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