The PUC has no regard for the rights of consumers Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
March 7, 2004

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Attempt after attempt is being made to persuade GT&T to grant interconnection to Cel*Star. GT&T remains adamant. Does the company understand that this attitude is not in its best interest? Consumers will remember and will be inclined to view the company as unfriendly to consumers. Let us look at some of the comments that have been made in the newspapers. All consumers must be conversant with what is taking place at this very moment; they must know that GT&T deprives them of competition, modern technology and cheaper rates. So let us look at some of the remarks made by various writers.

Joseph Tyndall (SN, 28.2.99): "The implementation delay has serious implications for Cel*Star. It is also detrimental to the public interest.

While its facilities remain idle, Cel*Star will have mounting interest and other expenses which will have to be capitalized. The company will be forced to start operations with the burden of a higher rate base than would otherwise be the case. This would reduce its ability to offer its services at competitive rates.

Also, while Cel* Star is prevented from offering its services, GT&T could take full advantage of its continuing monopoly to saturate the market for mobile phones, as it seems to be doing. The combination of circumstances will make it more difficult for Cel*Star to compete with GT&T for market share and may even threaten Cel*Star's survival. The ultimate losers are the luckless consumers who are being denied the benefits of effective competition "in respect of the prices charged for, and the quality and variety of, telecommunications services provided."

Christopher Ram (SN, 15.2.04): "There is much at stake, and the delicate balance we face is how to counter the natural tendency of the holder of a monopoly to frustrate attempts to prolong that monopoly, the right to due process and the public interest. The delay is costing the country and the consumer, and anyone who wants to see economic progress must also see the implications of the delay for whatever reason."

Mike Singh (SN, 2.3.04): I appeal publicly to the powers that be at GT&T to foster the spirit of competition by reaching an early consensus with Cel*Star on the way forward..."

Mr Singh referred to the fact that Cel*Star has indicated that it will be "rolling out high-speed wireless date offerings." We have heard that GT&T is seeking to change to this modern technology and it may be that interconnection is being delayed until the change has been completed.

In the impasse which now exists one would expect the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to intercede and assist Cel*Star and consumers by ordering the interconnection now that the Florida case has been dismissed.

The present PUC also has no regard for the rights of consumers and seems to regard the utility hearings as matters similar to private hearings in chambers. The acting secretary says she is under no obligation to inform consumer organisations of scheduled hearings and also omits to warn the organizations when hearings are postponed.

On Monday, March 1, the Institute of Development Studies held a 'Workshop on International Trade Nego-iations/Proposals: Telecommunications' at the Pegasus Hotel. The chairman and acting secretary of the PUC were present at the morning sessions but were noticeably absent in the afternoon when there was a session on 'The Local Regulatory Issues.' Mr Toni Housty, attorney-at-law and legal consultant, pointed out that there were three requirements for a regulatory body - independence, transparency and integrity.

In Guyana the independence of the PUC can be questioned when appointments are made by the government and there is no independent funding. Trans-parency can now be challenged because of the failure to involve the consumers, media and public fully in hearings.

The regulatory body should also be adequately funded in order to employ the kind of technical services that would satisfy both consumers and utilities that their submissions have been fairly addressed.

There is also abundant need to have training in regulatory practices if consumers are not to be consumed in Guyana. We sincerely hope that the University of Guyana, through the Institute of Development Studies, will be able to introduce training in this aspect without delay.