Unsatisfactory service, poor connectivity in the hinterland
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GTT CEO, Damian Blackburn
GTT CEO, Damian Blackburn

-among areas highlighted during PUC-organised liberalisation forum

USE of funding from the Universal Service Fund (USF), and the need for collaboration between Guyana’s leading telecommunications service providers (TSP) in order to address the lack of connectivity in remote hinterland communities, was at the centre of discussions during a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) webinar.
The webinar, which was held on Friday, focused on “Telecommunications Liberalisation and Consumer Expectations” and saw the participation of executives from all of Guyana’s leading telecommunications service providers, including the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT), Damian Blackburn; Digicel’s Head of Business Sales, Nalini Vieira; and Managing Director of E-Networks, Vishok Persaud.
Also making remarks at the event were Director of the Telecommunications Agency, Andre Griffith; PUC Chairperson, Dela Britton; and Adviser to the Guyana Consumers Association, Yog Mahadeo.

Digicel Head of Business Sales, Nalini Vieira

During a passionate address, Mahadeo lamented the lack of connectivity in several areas in Guyana, the lackluster approach to customer service and archaic state of services being provided to Guyanese due to the slothful pace with which liberalisation came into being.
“Guyanese are not enjoying technology some countries have started to enjoy some 20 years ago,” Mahadeo lamented.
Also in attendance were a number of concerned consumers who fielded questions to the telecom executives regarding their plans for future investment in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, the need for better cyber security, and the increased regulations of the TSP.
Blackburn, Vieira and Persaud unanimously emphasised that customer focus will be central to all of their business plans going forward, with improvements in customer service and quality.
“We’re all here to do the same thing, to bring the vision of 21st century telecoms to Guyana. The heart of what we do is to reliably connect our customers. We’ve set a very clear mission for GTT to pivot the business to become a 21st century customer-centric organisation,” Blackburn stated.

E-Networks Managing Director, Vishok Persaud

Vieira said: “We’ve been trying to introduce a more digital focus on the customers. Our focus is around our customers to give them the technology they want at the price they deserve.”
Vieira noted that over the past few months, since the telecommunications liberalisation has come into effect, Digicel has been busy with a number of initiatives which includes looking at expanding its coverage across the hinterland areas.
“We currently have 30 hinterland sites, and another eight in the next six months. Focus on hinterland locations where we see economic viability,” Vieira shared.
Most hinterland communities in Guyana continue to lack the provision of sustained Internet and other telecommunications services due to a number of challenges affecting the economic viability of the venture, including the low density of the populations, and lack of stable electricity provisions.

But with telecommunications access slowly becoming accepted as a human right, more emphasis is being placed on how access can be brought to those communities.
“We’re a small population but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We recognise the challenges but, how do we put the pieces together? Some things may need the collective effort. We can start with coverage and move to quality, and usability,” Persaud commented. The need for Internet access to remote communities has become a closer reality with the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. The over 20-year monopoly on the sector, which was held by GTT, came to an end last year. Increased use of satellite technology, and collaboration between the leading telecommunications providers are some ways stakeholders believe the problem of connectivity in the hinterland can begin to be addressed. “In our hinterland, with the dispersal of our population we will never be able to serve those populations economically with terrestrial mobile.

We are trying to get mobile telecommunications delivered via satellite,” commented Griffith.
Blackburn agreed with the need for increased use of satellite technology, and collaboration between the service providers, and the need for the service providers to begin tapping into the USF to provide services. “We do believe satellite is the solution to servicing these communities. We will have to collaborate as providers to address this problem along with the universal fund. I believe all providers collaborating is the way forward,” Blackburn added. Around the world, the USF is used to provide affordable telecommunications services for low-income households and to maintain telecommunications and broadband networks in rural areas. Income for the fund is generated by the service providers paying a percentage of their revenues into the USF.
Consumers present during Friday’s event emphasised the need for full disclosure on how much money is in the fund and how the money is being spent.

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