BTL and SpeedNet shake hands – interconnection agreement sealed
When the Government of Belize assumed control of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), the company rejected the terms of four agreements that BTL had previously signed with its competitor, SpeedNet, indicating that the agreements gave its competitor an unfair advantage in the market.
Those agreements were signed when the Ashcroft group of companies controlled BTL—but also held substantial shares in SpeedNet.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow had described the then interconnection agreement and tower lease agreement, both dated 2004, as “scandalous,” because of their terms.
Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) John Avery had said that the Commission felt there were some parts of that previous interconnection agreement that violated Belize law and those also needed to be amended.
None of the parties could agree, and so the dispute went to the Supreme Court, which gave an order in March 2011, sending the parties back to the negotiating table.
On Friday, August 26, representatives of both companies sat face-to-face as they affixed their signatures and company seals to the first interconnection agreement approved by the PUC.
Avery said that the companies “have no choice but to interconnect. It is mandated by law.”
He explained that interconnection is required so that subscribers of one licensee can access the services provided by the other licensee: “If a BTL customer wants to call a SpeedNet customer, interconnection is necessary for that to take place,” he explained.
The 5-year interconnection agreement, signed in triplicate, takes immediate effect. Avery said that any future interconnection agreement should mirror this one.
The PUC chairman informed that under the new interconnection agreement, the rate for mobile-to-mobile connection has been reduced from 20 cents to 14 cents, although the rate for mobile to fixed phones remains the same, as previously approved in the rate decision of 2004.
Asked whether the lower mobile interconnection rates the companies will pay to each other will translate to lower call rates for customers, Avery said: “By law, we do not set rates where there is competition. There is competition in the mobile market. It is up to the companies to decide if they will pass it on.”
Avery told the media Friday that of all the agreements, the interconnection agreement, the first to be penned with PUC approval, was perhaps the most crucial.
He explained that one area of the interconnection agreement requires further consideration; that is, the interconnection rates for termination of Smart calls on BTL’s fixed line service. Awaiting an agreement on this front would have delayed the signing for several weeks more, Avery indicated.
Now, said Avery, the interconnection agreement is “legally enforceable.”
If there is a dispute that the parties cannot resolve between themselves within 30 days, they can appeal to the PUC for resolution. If the parties are still not satisfied with the PUC’s ruling, said Avery, they have the right to go to court to challenge what the PUC decides.
In the event that a new owner is not happy with the agreement, Avery said that there can be no alteration or amendment of the agreement without PUC approval.
A fundamental safeguard in the agreement, he noted, is that no party can sever interconnection—making it impossible for Smart customers and BTL customers to call each other—without approval from the PUC.
There are other agreements due to be signed as early as next week, he added. Those agreements include a master agreement which sets out the terms for certain telecommunications services between parties, such as BTL’s leasing of capacity on ARCOS and BTL’s Fiber Network to SpeedNet. The tower lease agreement and lease agreement for indoor spaces are also pending and may be finalized within the next week or so, Avery indicated.
SpeedNet Communications Limited issued a press release Friday, saying, “Speednet/Smart, along with its over one hundred thousand customers, expects that all obstacles will be removed and that the welcomed interconnection of its new 3G network with Belize Telemedia Limited will be effected in the next few days.”
The company added that, “This long awaited interconnection of the 3G network will address the problems of congestion affecting our Smart customers. It will also allow Smart to launch its broadband data and high speed internet service on mobile phones, as well as computers.”
BTL said Friday that “Smart has created its own obstacles,” adding that negotiations for a new agreement reached a stalemate on June 8, 2011.
For its part, BTL said, “Telemedia cannot accept blame for Smart’s inability to provide their 3G service which is the result of their refusal to follow the processes ordered by the court....
“In the interim, Telemedia will continue to focus on the upkeep and expansion of its network to ensure that Telemedia and DigiCell customers continue to enjoy the best and most reliable services.”
The approved interconnection agreement is posted online at PUC’s website, at http://www.puc.bz
, in the publications section. A summary is to be published in the Gazette.Amandala