Cellular company confident it can compete with GT&T
Raps phone company over interconnection

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
November 11, 2000

Caribbean Telecommunications Ltd (CTL) said on Thursday that while it could compete with GT&T's cellular service--even at lowered rates--the company was refusing to interconnect with it so as to keep it out of the cellular services market.

The Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd (GT&T) however says it would be ready to interconnect with CTL once the two sides had a cost-based interconnection agreement.

CTL's General Manager, Prajah Dhipok Singh, told reporters at a press conference at the Sidewalk Café that GT&T was blocking CTL's interconnection because it wanted to have the advantage in the cellular market and prevent CTL from penetrating because of its lowered rates.

CTL, which has a customer base of between 200 and 250 persons in Skeldon, Corentyne, offers rates at $40 and $25 per minute, with a distance component of $6.60 per minute, which has to be added on for long distance calls within the country. GT&T's lowest rate at present is $40, but in its proposal to lower tariffs, this could drop to $35.

Singh said that GT&T would be able to significantly penetrate the market if it prevented CTL from entering now with its current rates. He opined that GT&T would use the lower rates for a brief period as a barrier to CTL's entry into the market and when CTL went under, would then re-approach the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for higher rates on the grounds that the trial period proved to be unprofitable.

Singh said that in 1997, the PUC ordered GT&T to move ahead with CTL's interconnection, but this was being flouted.

However, GT&T's Director for Rate Making, Gene Evelyn, told Stabroek News that GT&T had been more than willing to interconnect with CTL but said the firm had not been negotiating in good faith. He said that the PUC order of 1997 was granted in the spirit that the interconnection agreement be reviewed in three months and GT&T had informed CTL since 1999 that it wanted to work on a cost-based interconnection agreement. A draft interconnection agreement was submitted to Singh.

Evelyn said that CTL was asked to sit with him to determine the cost base for the interconnection agreement and Singh seemed to be in favour of this. However, subsequently, GT&T was faced with Singh seeking a court order to compel GT&T to interconnect CTL.

Singh's position was that while cost-based interconnection agreements were the trend, GT&T must first interconnect CTL and then determine the cost base for the agreement.

As of now, the two sides are at odds over the settlement of rates by CTL, with GT&T saying CTL owed it $500,000 but the latter saying GT&T owed it $10 million. Evelyn said that CTL had never made such a claim to GT&T. He said it was standard practice, if there was a problem with the settlement rates, that this was raised with the international carrier.

Evelyn also stated that CTL had not been able to get its equipment together for GT&T to interconnect. Singh on Thursday insisted that CTL was ready to interconnect out of a Hadfield Street office.

Singh added that the playing field was not level and cited GT&T levying the distance component for calls on CTL but not applying this to its own customers.

However, Evelyn said the distance component was factored into GT&T's cost of cellular calls. He said the cellular charges per minute reflected switching and transport costs. As such, calls within exchanges would be more profitable to GT&T than calls between exchanges. Singh opined that with the deaths of former president Cheddi Jagan and trade minister Michael Shree Chan and the removal of PJ Menon as chairman of the PUC, an enabling environment had been created for GT&T to get away with unfair business practices.

Singh was critical of the PUC, accusing it of dealing unfairly with CTL.

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