Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – News sources in Guyana report that Digicel has not paid licence fees for at least five years, an amount estimated to surpass Guyanese $1 billion.

The Guyanese Telecommunications Agency billed Digicel for these outstanding fees in September, requesting that they be paid within 30 days. Digicel, meanwhile, has also been accused of using spectrum illegally in some areas, affecting the ability of other providers to expand their services.

However, Digicel, in response to the Jamaica Observer request for comment, said on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, that the matter is being thrashed out in court.

“The matter is before the courts in Guyana and, as such, we are not in a position to make any further comments at this time,” a company statement said.

Issued a new licence in Guyana in 2020, Digicel has been agitating for more spectrum for the expansion and upgrade of its services.

The mobile company said, in July of this year in a company release, that requests to the Government of Guyana have been pending since November 2020 and new services and upgrades have been delayed.

One year ago, the Government of Guyana issued new operating licences to two telecommunication operators after a decades-old push to liberalise the industry.

The achievement came after a decade-long fight by the company which challenged the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) monopoly on international traffic to and from Guyana. The issue of liberalisation in the telecommunications sector spilled into the courts.

Progress was made legislatively, and on October 6, 2020, Prime Minister Brigadier Mark Phillips handed over operational licences and accompanying documents to GTT, Digicel and E-Networks.

The distribution of licences took place one day after the prime minister had historically announced the end of the 30-year monopoly on telecommunications in Guyana.

The Government of Guyana issued commencement orders which liberalised the telecommunications sector by operationalising the “Telecommunications Act 2016” and the “Public Utilities Act 2016”.

In a statement at the time, Digicel said that its Deep Blue One project in the region would provide the best-in-class connectivity to French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, with the opportunity to connect offshore oil and gas rigs on the back of the industry boom in the region.

Oliver Coughlan, Digicel Group CEO, pointed out during the handover ceremony, to the connectivity options the company would provide, both onshore and offshore, to the oil and gas industries in countries like Guyana and Suriname.

The build out, he said, would complement Digicel’s existing Southern Caribbean Fibre network which has approximately 3,000 km of submarine cable connecting 20 islands in the Eastern Caribbean, running from Trinidad & Tobago up to Puerto Rico with onward connectivity to Miami and New York.

However, by mid-year 2021 the company and the Government of Guyana were at loggerheads again.

In July 2021, in a statement, regional chief executive officer with responsibility for Guyana, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, Gregory Dean, outlined: “The Government has been transformational in delivering liberalisation. Now, to be able to bring further benefits to the people of Guyana, we need confirmation from the Government that the spectrum we use to deliver these and future services will be made available. Our requests have been pending since November [2020] and this has led to new services and upgrades being delayed.”

Dean indicated that the company has invested over Guyanese $4 billion in rolling out LTE services delivering greater speeds and an overall enhanced user experience to customers on the coast and inland areas like Linden, Bartica, Mahdia, Kwakwani, Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, Aroaima, and Matthews Ridge.

Puruni’s upgrade, which has been delayed due to poor road accessibility, was set to be completed in August with expected weather improvements.

This, he said, would see Digicel’s LTE services being available to an estimated 83 per cent of the population, “allowing more customers to now enjoy the full digital lifestyle”.