US ‘comes to defence’ of Guyana telecoms monopoly

05 December 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

In a surprise intervention, a US embassy official in Guyana has called for telecoms liberalisation but said that existing contracts should not be violated.

The move comes as the government of Guyana is expected to begin talks with Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) about ending the monopoly. The republic’s government passed a law to end GTT’s position in July and originally said talks would begin in September.

Terry Steers-Gonzalez, deputy chief of mission in the US embassy, said in a speech to the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the telecoms sector should be opened up to competition, but called on the government to respect “the sanctity of contracts”.

GTT is 80% owned by Atlantic Tele-Network, a Nasdaq-traded US company that has telecoms investments in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands as well as Guyana, which is on the South American coast. The company is six years into a 15-year monopoly licence agreement on international calls.

In a move seen as a defence of GTT, Steers-Gonzalez said: “We ask that you participate in the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. Strong regulatory structures that protect both consumers and businesses are good for everyone, but remember that sanctity of contracts and respect for agreements are important for future investments.”

GTT claims that it is losing heavily on international traffic because people are making international voice over IP calls from internet cafés.

The country’s telecoms ministry is running a consultation on the new legislation before it is activated. The president of Guyana has already signed it into law.