Friday, August 5, 2011

New telecoms Act to attract more investment in Guyana

Government yesterday tabled the Telecommunications Bills in Parliament to create legislation that will effectively make it impossible for any company to monopolise the sector.
The Bill is expected to provide for an “open, liberalized and competitive communications sector …” and it specifically addresses the expansion of telecommunications networks and services into unserved and underserved areas through the institution of a new universal access/universal services programme.
The Bill also calls for a number of changes in the policies and operations of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and as a result an Amendment to the PUC Act was also tabled yesterday. The legislation creates a level playing field in the sector by crafting a new set of telecommunications regulations based on those found in other countries, including other Caribbean territories.
According to the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, the new legal framework created is “characterized by transparency and non-discrimination in the issuance and monitoring of licenses and authorizations to use the spectrum, seamless interconnection and access between and among telecommunications networks and services and price regulation where required to ensure competition and protect consumers.”
The very first action that the legislation calls for is the creation of a Telecommunications Agency into which the National Frequency Management Unit will be incorporated. This Agency is expected to function under the supervision of the Minister who will serve as the technical regulator of the sector and is responsible for regulating licensing, the spectrum, and other technical matters, and for administering the new universal access/universal services programme.
The Agency will be composed of a ‘Director of Telecommunications’, a ‘Deputy Director of Telecommunications’ and ‘such Heads of Divisions as may be designated by the Minister’ and administrative staff. The members, who are all to be appointed by the Minister, are all expected to be full-time employees, who cannot hold office for a period exceeding three years. Members of the Agency are not allowed to hold any other position in the Government while they are in the employ of the Agency.
The Bill also addresses the functions of the Minister with reference to the sector. These responsibilities include the development and review of telecommunications and other spectrum-related plans and policies; granting or denying applications for licenses, exemptions and frequency authorizations. He is also expected to play a part in determining the classifications of the telecommunications networks and services in terms of public, private or other, as well as which network and services may be operated and provided respectively under class licenses.
The Bill in its fourth section makes provisions for the establishment of a non-discriminatory licensing regime for the operation and provision of telecommunications networks and services. This section of the Bill also considers the issuance of individual licenses, class licenses, special licenses (in emergency and short-term situations), and exemptions from the licensing agreement. The issuance of frequency authorizations for use of the spectrum and the installation and operation of radio-communication equipment by any person was also provided for by this Bill.
Part Five of the Bill, subtitled Prices and Dominance adopts the principle that prices will be set by the marketplace and must be fair; reasonable and non-discriminatory. It does, however, leave the responsibility for regulating prices charged by the service providers who are capable of controlling the market or that engage in anti-competitive conduct, in the hands of the PUC.
The rest of the Bill goes on to consider issues such as Interconnection and Access; Universal Access and Services; spectrum management, numbering and domain name management; equipment, testing and technical standards; information , reporting and inspection; breaking up streets, removal of obstructions and access to land; offences and fees and finally a number of general and transitional provisions some.
Under Interconnection and Access, providers are obliged to provide interconnection and access, terms of which are mandated by the PUC if the providers cannot come to agreement among themselves within a given time frame. Universal access/universal services speaks to the extension of telecommunications networks and services into unserved and underserved areas and regions.
This section of the Bill also calls for all operators and service providers to contribute annually to a Universality Fund, which will be used to subsidize projects in those areas and regions. The eighth section of the Bill sets out clear, unambiguous powers for the Agency’s regulation of the use of the spectrum and the installation and operation of radio communication equipment.

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