Phone company adamant i-Net's operations illegal

Stabroek News
July 7, 2001

The Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Co (GT&T) has asserted that data communications company i-Net's operations are illegal, arguing the firm is bypassing GT&T's international gateways and the international traffic settlement arrangements.

It was the latest salvo in an ongoing row between the monopoly company and i-Net which is currently offering wireless internet services here. The feud also comes in the backdrop of a warning from Prime Minister Sam Hinds that i-Net risks being shut down by the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) because it is providing services without permission.

GT&T said Guyana's current legislation supports the view that until GT&T's licence is re-negotiated and/or modified, i-Net's operations will continue to be illegal.

In an e-mail to its clients dated June 22, i-Net had posited that internet services are not telecommunications services subject to the Telecommunications Act of the 1990, and the globalised internet, a relatively recent phenomenon, could not have been contemplated under the Post and Telegraph Act or the legislation which established the NFMU, and therefore could not be subject to regulation under these Acts.

Arguing its case, GT&T referred to the definition of "telecommunications system" in the Telecommunications Act 1990 Section 2 (1) (v).

In the Act, telecommunications system means a system for the conveyance, through the agency of electric, magnetic, electro-magnetic, electro-chemical or electro-mechanical energy of -- (i) speech, music and other sounds; (ii) visual images; (iii) signals serving for the impartation of any matter otherwise than in the form of sounds or visual images; or (iv) signals serving for the actuation or control of machinery or apparatus.

GT&T pointed out that the internet comprises a network of nearly 50,000 networks combined by a common protocol.

Nearly one billion individuals, each with a unique address, use the internet to send and receive messages through one of the networks to any or all users of computers connected to the network.

Referring to the Public Utilities Commission Act 1999 Section 4 (1) (b) GT&T noted "public utility" means any person who owns facilities used to provide the following services: (a) the conveyance or transmission of oral, written, digital or any other form of messages or communications by telephone, wireless telephony, telegraphy or wireless telegraphy, satellites, cable television, telecom service providers, pay telephone service providers, telecoms resellers, internet and other telecom network service providers, radio common carriers, or cellular mobile providers or any other method of transmission currently offered to the public or offered as a common carriage in the future.

Alluding to i-Net's point about the Post and Telegraph Act and the NFMU legislation, GT&T stated updating construction is given to such enactments.

"In other words, it is usual to interpret an ongoing Act as being intended to develop in meaning with developing circumstances to allow for changes since [the time] the Act was initially framed," GT&T's statement read.

GT&T recalled that an instruction from the NFMU had been issued in October last year for i-Net to discontinue operation of its satellite dish, as well as the sale of data and communication services for inter-connection outside of Guyana.

The expectation was that a resolution of differences between i-Net and GT&T would obviate the need for implementation of the NFMU decision.

Discussions were held between officials from GT&T and i-Net in November, 2000.

According to GT&T, i-Net indicated it was a broadband data communications company, providing service to business-to-business customers who required inter-connect services to upstream suppliers and internet customers.

The statement said consequently i-Net was seeking service level agreements with GT&T of good quality and excellent performance so that both organisations would obtain good revenues and improve profits together.

According to GT&T, i-Net informed it that it planned to put in place a wireless infrastructure for distribution of internet service to corporate users on a basis that internet provider services are not constrained by Telecommunications Regulations as they apply to authorised dealers or licenced carriers viz GT&T.

A request was accordingly made by i-Net for GT&T to quote an internet 512k service with a quality-of-service requirement of 200 milliseconds at a cost of US$6,500 or less per month.

GT&T said it confirmed it had the capacity to provide the service and asked i-Net to make a formal application. GT&T said it explained that, in its view, the internet is a carrier-provided service and GT&T was the only licenced carrier in Guyana for local, long distance and international service.

As such, i-Net could provide local private distribution and seek long distance or international inter-connect from GT&T at a price currently being charged to internet service providers in Guyana.

i-Net had sought two telephone lines from GT&T for over a year to carry out its business more efficiently. GT&T in its reply said it was satisfied that the i-Net request for the lines would be to provide the company with the capacity for local distribution.

GT&T said it was not prepared to commit commercial and contractual suicide by giving the lines to a company which was intent on violating GT&T's exclusive licence.

Refuting another claim by i-Net, GT&T said at no time was it stated that there were 20,000 persons awaiting telephone service.

It also said no member from the i-Net delegation stated that the company was willing to establish a big enough wireless link between the two organisations to enable GT&T to deploy the 20,000 telephone lines, as was stated in i-Net's e-mail to its clients.

Prime Minister Hinds had written to i-Net on June 7 warning the company that its operations were in breach of a commitment to enter into an arrangement with GT&T and that it was at risk of being closed down by the NFMU.

In the June 22 e-mail to its customers, i-Net assured it was operating within the legal framework of its licence as a wireless high speed broadband data communications provider and integration firm.