Chamber of Commerce renews call for telecoms shakeup

Newly installed President of the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce, Yves Ephraim (Social media photo)
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By Theresa Goodwin

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Chamber of Commerce officials are seeking an explanation behind the long delay in passing the Telecommunications Bill which is aimed at regulating the sector.

The bill has been read in Parliament on several occasions, but is yet to be passed.

Newly installed Chamber President Yves Ephraim said, “Cabinet needs to just man up and explain why we cannot get the Telecoms Act that we deserve that can take us into the future.

“We need to move away from the 70-year-old paradigm – and really the leadership we have in this sector, we have lost it.

“We are looking for solutions to our own development and here it is from a low hanging fruit and we have an impediment that is preventing us from really grabbing that fruit.

“It really makes no sense to me and I am thinking this is why we need to bring this matter to the fore,” Ephraim told the Observer AM show yesterday.

He explained that are several challenges which should be addressed going forward.

According to the IT specialist, the current framework gives a minister or the Cabinet the ability to “pick winners and losers at a whim”.

He cited the need for an environment where the rules are straightforward and the opportunity for investment is open.

“APUA [Antigua Public Utilities Authority] essentially has a monopoly and a fixed line. What it means is that Digicel and Flow cannot get the permission to even put a fiber between their cell sites to be able to drive the high technology that people want with the high bandwidth they really need,” Ephraim explained.

“The other companies are not given that permission also to roll out fiber; that should not be restricted, it should be open to anyone,” he said.

Ephraim also contended that the country cannot continue to operate under outdated rules, noting that current laws also make it difficult for local business owners to enter the industry due to what he calls “high barriers”.

The Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying for changes in the telecommunications sector for some time. In 2011, the body called for consultations on the Telecommunications Bill which had its first reading that year.

At the time, it said in a release that any new Telecommunications Act would no doubt significantly impact the way business is conducted, how people access educational material, communicate with friends and family, and even drive the entertainment sector.

The Chamber of Commerce has already mobilised a team which is mainly tasked with pushing for reform.

Telecoms Minister Melford Nicholas told Observer he had already been involved in discussions with Chamber bosses and expected to have further engagement with them shortly.

“The stall is due to representation from APUA that they needed more time; opening up the market would represent an existential threat,” he explained.

“The matter will come before Parliament again and is due for consultation later in the legislative cycle,” Nicholas added.

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