Telecom deregulation necessary for progress, fixed cellular technology seems to be the future
Stabroek News
March 16, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Recently I have noted a number of letters and articles complaining about the quality of telephone services in Guyana. I thought I would make your readers aware of what has happened in Jamaica, and maybe also in Barbados and the OECS now that they have terminated the exclusive contract with Cable and Wireless (C&W) in their territories.

Barbados is in the midst of licensing companies to compete with C&W. It follows Jamaica, which allowed competition to C&W about two years ago. One of the new Jamaican cellular vendors is an Irish company Digicel. They have now approached the Barbadian government, partnering with local investors, for a cellular license.

Digicel, has invested US$225 million in a cellular telephone service in Jamaica over the past 18 months, and expect to invest another US $100M this year. In the first year they connected 109, 000 customers, and are aiming at 500,000 by the end of 2003. All this in three short years.

At a recent news conference the Digicel spokesman said "Before we arrived in Jamaica, C&W had 70,000 cellular users and limited island coverage. Just before we started up our services they cut rates in half, and began literally giving away phones so by the time we launched they had 325,000 customers". Both companies are competing now giving the best service at the lowest prices.

Digicel, in their application for a Barbadian license, said they were able to make the promises because of their Jamaican experience. Just weeks before Digicel turned on its equipment there, he said, C&W dropped their cellular rates there by 50 per cent, but continued to cover only a fraction of the country, while Digicel boasted of near 100 per cent coverage at startup.

They proved that C&W charged what the market would bear giving limited cellular coverage at the highest prices possible. They noted that C&W's own figures show that the Caribbean region generates 28 per cent of their income, but 82 per cent of their profit. This monopoly gouging will now surely end with competition in Jamaica, the eight OECS states and Barbados.

In Jamaica, Digicel have established a complete island wide cellular service with no dead areas where there is no signal. Additionally, since they charge by the second, instead of the minute as C&W did before competition, they radically reduced overall customer charges. Also customers only pay for the calls they place and not for calls received.

Barbados is a smaller island than Jamaica and can be easily serviced. C&W has switched from analog to digital and has dropped prices and tried to improve service. They are running scared after the Jamaican experience, however they still charge by the minute and for calls received. Now that competition is a reality, Barbadians are looking forward to competition in local cellular now, and in two years to international calls as well.

Digicel's spokesman said that "We will demonstrate in Barbados that a cellular service can effectively be the only service you need - cellular will eventually replace fixed line services in a number of areas," he said. "If you have a cellular phone service that is crystal clear, that does not drop the signal when you travel, and with rates low enough that you can afford, then you will not have to bother about installing a regular telephone line in your home. Your phone at home will be your phone on the move, and you will not have to miss a single call."

Without a proper telecom infrastructure the country will never prosper. It cannot be built internally as it requires millions of US dollars, maybe as much as US 500M. Guyana has to think seriously about attracting investors like Digicel who have the experience and the technical capability to give complete coverage to the whole country. "The times they are a changing". To be relevant in the world economy, one has to be fully connected with the latest technology. There is no time to waste arguing and supporting dead technologies and infrastructures for whatever reasons.

These are the realities, the Free Trade Area for Latin America (FTAA) will most likely be a reality in January 2005 as the NAFTA partners are all for it and most Latin American countries are just waiting for that day. FTAA will make the Caricom "talking heads" and inaction regarding regional free trade a non issue as there will be regional trade from Canada to Argentina.

Do you wonder now why the Brazilians are pushing for a road through Guyana?

They know the score. Do Guyanese really understand the rapid changes within this region after FTAA is instituted in January 2005?

I see no hint that they do, as there are no discussions or explanations, or even awareness of the impending changes. For instance, import duties on nearly all products traded within the region will be abolished. No tariffs or quotas can be imposed on regional products to prevent free trade. There will be changes in trading patterns. Government will have to institute a VAT tax to get income.

A country cannot dream about progressing rapidly without a world class telephone system. Fixed cellular seems to be the future but it has to be the correct fixed cellular technology and with the universal coverage of the whole country. This technology will integrate the phone, the computer and even video and TV. The merging of technologies and rapid obsolescence of old technologies is a real problem as they make old business and government structures obsolete as well.

I am interested in readers' comments, I may be contacted at

Yours faithfully,

Cyril G. Bryan