Guyanese have a right to best cellular service available Consumers Concerns
By Eileen Cox

Stabroek News
September 16, 2001

`TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN': Let me warn that this concerns the legal position of the cellular Telephone Service. Let it be a concern of all consumers now that CPP (Calling Party Pays) has been introduced.

These arguments are contained in a short brief prepared by Mr Dennison Smith, an attorney from the United States of America who was in Guyana serving with the Bretton Woods Reform Organisation(BWRO). When the BWRO folded up and Mr Dennison Smith was preparing to return to his homeland, as a Director of the Consumers Advisory Bureau, I invited him to stay and help the consumers of Guyana in their uphill task of defending the consumers of Guyana against the GT&T.

Mr Dennison Smith accepted and for a few years worked full time with the CAB and later with both the CAB and GCA.

This short document is entitled "Guyana remains ill prepared for Cellular Telephone Service It was presented to the Public Utilities Commission when GT&T sought approval from the PUC to introduce tariffs for cellular service.

Dennison Smith identified two main issues of concern to consumers:

(1) the laws governing cellular telephones and

(2) the technology used to provide service.

He focussed his attention on the first issue under the sub-title "Guyana Has No Specific Rules Nor Regulations Governing Cellular Telephones" and wrote:

"Guyana has two laws governing the area of telecommunications, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Act and the Telecommunications Act. Though the Telecommunications Act has never been enforced nor

used and conflicts with the PUC Act, neither law specifically covers Cellular Telephone Systems. Other countries, most notably the United States and England, recognise the unique problems and issues surrounding Cellular communications and have implemented specific laws governing these areas. Such laws help create competitive market conditions and ensure that consumers receive

high quality service at the lowest available prices. This lack of rules covering Cellular communications has already led to serious

problems in Guyana's telecommunications market."

Dennison Smith then referred to the licence that GT&T inherited from its predecessor, the Guyana Telecommunications Corporation (GTC). He said that under that licence GT&T claimed and received one entire spectrum of frequencies "This provision" he argued "is outdated and based upon a time when the telephone company had a monopoly over all areas of telecommunications." He stressed

"GT&T's spectrum of frequencies is far in excess of what it will ever use and is twice the amount of that used in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark Sweden, Norway and Finland who have 100 times the number of customers."

The second issue relates to the technology used. Writing on February 28, 1995, Mr Dennison Smith said:

"GT&T is introducing Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) technology as the foundation of its cellular system."

He then refers to an information paper issued by the Public Utilities Commission on February 6, 1992, which stated that AMPS technology was already being phased out in Western markets in favour of a newer technology called the Narrow Band AMPS and, ultimately, digitally based systems. This newer technology, he said, would require less of the radio spectrum and ensure greater confidentiality of telephone calls.

In conclusion, Mr Smith asserted that Guyanese have the right to the best cellular phone system available. He alluded to the concern of consumers that the lack of competition coupled with outdated laws was resulting in an inefficient and expensive system for the people of Guyana. His final remarks were:

"A well-functioning Cellular Phone System can be a great asset for the development of the country but there must be an adequate legal framework for the system. Companies must also be required to investigate and use the best and most cost effective technology."

It is now for us to find out what improvements GT&T has introduced in the service since 1995. We know that recently the company was granted a temporary reduction in rates. How temporary is "temporary" we do not know. Time will tell.