Battle lines drawn between Digicel, GTT in court challenge over monopoly
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28th Aug 2018
Source: Kaieteur News
As Guyana gears towards a year-end conclusion of the telecoms monopoly held by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT), there is a major battle brewing in the High Court.
The two telephone companies, Digicel Guyana and the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Limited (GTT), are challenging each other. On one hand, U Mobile (Cellular) Inc., which has a licence now being operated by Digicel Guyana Limited, is asking the court to rule that the telecoms licence granted in the ‘90s to GTT is illegal as it breached several rights.
GTT, on the other hand, says that Digicel illegally attempted to stop routing its international calls through GTT’s network.
The matter challenging the licence had been dragging on since 2009.
Yesterday, it appears that the matters may finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
In the case management conference, Justice Singh ordered the constitutional case filed by Digicel against GT&T – seeking to declare GT&T’s exclusive telecommunications licence invalid, as well as two cases filed by GT&T against Digicel for damages – be consolidated.
Justice Singh ordered a briefing schedule and set the matter down for a case management conference on December 3, 2018.
The constitutional motion was previously heard by Justice Ian Chang, who retired without giving a decision in that matter.
Digicel is represented by three of Guyana’s most prominent commercial lawyers, Edward Luckhoo, S.C. of Luckhoo and Luckhoo; Stephen Fraser of Fraser, Housty and Yearwood, and Devindra Kissoon of London House Chambers. GT&T is represented by Timothy Jonas.
In 2009, Digicel filed a motion seeking redress for what it says is a contravention of its fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Guyana.
The company named the Attorney General of Guyana and GTT as the respondents.
Among other things, Digicel is seeking a declaration that the agreement made in June 1990, between the Government of Guyana, Haslyn Parris, Deputy Minister, Planning and Development, and Atlantic Tele-network, Inc. (ATN) a US company, to grant an exclusive licence, is absolutely void, and in contravention of the Constitution. Digicel argued that the licence granted to GTT which purports to grant an exclusive privilege in respect of the provision of national and international voice and data services is ultra vires and is not an exclusive licence.
Among other things, Digicel in that 2009 motion asked for a declaration that the licence in respect of international voice and data transmission services is not contained in or done under the authority of any written law that makes provision for the matters.
With regards to the cellular system, Digicel argued that the provision that international service can only occur through interconnection with another licensed operator is also wrong. In fact, Digicel argued that this is not catered for in the law.
Digicel wanted the court to award damages and/or compensation as a form of redress for contravention of its fundamental rights as well as costs.
With regards to the rerouting of the calls, GTT, in 2012, filed court action that it is wants orders to stop Digicel from commencing international calls through another means.
GTT claimed that on July 24th, 2012, Digicel publicly announced that it will cease routing international calls through its network and will commence a public international call service of its own with different rates.
GTT argued that its rates have been approved by the Public Utilities Commission and that Digicel has not received permission from the commission nor does it have a licence to directly provide a public international call service.
GTT wanted $3,000,000 daily for any continuing for breach of contract by Digicel.
Meanwhile, GTT over the weekend met with Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.
It said that it is committed to the earliest conclusion of negotiations with the Guyana Government and discussions with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.
This assurance was communicated to Prime Minister Nagamootoo by a two-member GTT delegation, during a courtesy call on Saturday at the official residence of the Prime Minister on Main Street.
Meeting with the Prime Minister were Justin Nedd, Chief Executive Officer of GTT and Delreo Newman, Director of International Regulatory and Governmental Affairs, both of whom iterated GTT’s intention to boost all-round cooperation with the Guyana Government.
According to a release from Government, the Prime Minister was accompanied by Deeann Ali, the Personal Assistant with responsibility for Information Technology.
“GTT briefed Prime Minister Nagamootoo on its investment profile and willingness to reach out to more interior and hinterland communities to provide reliable telephone and mobile data services.”
During the hour-long discussion Prime Minister Nagamootoo, according to the statement, thanked the executives for partnering in the Regional Radio Project in Bartica and Orealla which utilize GTT towers to access signals.
“The CEO assured support for the other projects at Mabaruma, Lethem, Aishalton and Mahdia.”
The Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction over commitment by GTT to an open and competitive telecommunication sector, and assured the company of Government’s favourable view of it being a national corporate player.
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