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 Bahamas Commentary

2003-06-20 16:38:08

BTC Policy Statement

Remarks By Minister Bradley B. Roberts

Bahamas Telecommunications Company
Policy Statement
Ministerial Panel Caribbean Association
Of National Telecommunication Organizations
At Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
June 16, 2003

In the past decade, the telecommunication sector has experienced unprecedented global growth. Telecommunications, in and of itself has undergone a technological revolution sparked by new competitive forces, privatization and the emergence of a host of new global service providers.

My government recognizes that the development and provision of a world class telecommunication infrastructure is critical to the ongoing economic and social development of the bahamas. If one accepts that modernized telecommunication infrastructure is central to socio-economic development, then so to is the privatization and liberalisation of telecommunication services as a critical pre-condition of development.

Today, telecommunication is the third largest sector of the global economy behind healthcare and banking. It is estimated that annual telecommunications' equipment and services revenue will soon exceed one trillion dollars per year.
Innovations in technology has led to a surge in the range and functionality of services. Users now demand and enjoy more effective data services, network services, and other custom features and it hasn't stopped there.

Technical developments have changed the way in which we communicate and work.

Technology development has also changed perceptions. There is an emerging view that there is no continuing reason for telecommunication services to be owned or controlled by the state and thus most countries are privatizing the incumbent operator and opening their markets to competition.

Liberalization has also undermined traditional payment arrangements which, for so long, provided a large portion of the revenue and enabled the subsidization of local calls. Tariffs are now being rebalanced the world over and made to relate more closely to real service costs. Clearly, mounting international pressure has led to a move towards cost-oriented accounting rates.

Batelco (now btc) has, to date enjoyed a monopoly of the provision of telecommunication services to the bahamas, not only does btc own the only public switched telephone networks but also provides the only cellular service.

My government has established objectives and has a clear vision for telecommunication in the bahamas.

The fundamental public policy objectives driving the telecommunications' sector are as follows:
1. The provision of access, by persons throughout the bahamas.
2. To provide the most modern services possible at reasonable and affordable prices.
3. The improvement of the bahamas' position and competitive advantage in global markets.
4. The transition of the bahamas to a digital economy.
5. The positioning of the bahamas as an electronic commerce hub in our region
6. The provision for the enhancement of the economic development of the nation, particularly, the expansion in sustainable, high quality employment opportunities.
7. The use of emerging telecommunication services to strengthen the healthcare and education infrastructure and.
8. The promotion of competition.

Having regard to the aforementioned objectives, my government has set the following vision for telecommunication in the bahamas:
 our vision is to develop and maintain the most modern, cost effective telecommunication sector possible, so as to enhance the bahamas' competitive position in the global community, facilitate the country's transition to a digital economy and to improve the quality of life for the bahamian people.

Our strategy to achieve btc's vision is based upon sector reform. My government has established a new framework to enable additional improvements in infrastructure and service delivery, and to encourage investment.

Btc's new framework includes the introduction of private ownership and management in telecommunications by divesting a 49% stake in btc, together with the award of management rights to an international telecommunication operator or strategic partnership.

Allowing new operators to enter the sector encourages competition in the provision of telecommunication services and the separation of the regulatory functions from the operators of telecommunication systems and the provision of telecommunication services.

Private sector participation is best provided under competitive conditions because this leads to more investment, gains in operational efficiency, increased quality of service and lower prices.

However, as my government moves towards its policy of the liberalization of all telecommunications, it must be pragmatic. A short delay in the introduction of full competition in limited areas will allow btc time to prepare for a multi-carrier environment.

In order to protect the interests of all parties, regulations will be objective, consistent and transparent. Operational decisions will be left to the telecommunications operators in the interest of consumer protection. However the sector will be regulated within a framework that is independent of the operators of the networks and suppliers of services.

The sector's policy and issues of national security will remain in the hands of the government of the bahamas to ensure consistency with its objectives. The day-to-day regulation of the industry will be entrusted to the public utilities commission, which I will refer to as the puc.

The new legislative framework has enacted new legislation governing the provision of telecommunication services. The telecommunication act, 1999, repeals and replaces the bahamas telecommunications corporation act, 1966.

In summary, the new telecommunications act, 1999, lays down my government's objectives for telecommuncation and defines the functions and powers of the minister and of the puc.

Under the telecommunication act, 1999, the puc is empowered to issue, modify, enforce and revoke licenses. Persons who wish to operate a network or offer services are required to apply to the puc for a license to do so.

The puc may issue both individual licenses and class licenses. Licenses will be issued subject to a number of conditions, which will vary according to the type of license. The puc is empowered to modify license conditions of an operator after granting it; if it obtains the consent of the licensee or, in the absence of the consent of the licensee if the amendment is required to further the objectives of the telecommunication act, 1999.

The telecommunications act 1999 also includes radio frequency spectrum management. Under the act, the puc is empowered to issue radio communication licenses and to regulate radio frequency spectrum.

There exists certain regulatory issues such as basic telecommunications, access to the internet, emerging services and public paid apparatus that must be provided, in all public areas, including settlements of ten or more households.

My government supports the principle identified by the 1995 united nations social summit, that universal access to basic education and lifelong educational opportunities are preconditions of social and economic development.

The puc is tasked with ensuring adequate access to telecommunication networks, including leased circuits and satellite services, by users, other operators and service providers on a transparent and non-discriminatory basis. An operator enjoying dominance in the relevant market will be required to offer interconnection to other qualified operators on cost based terms.

Presently, internet service providers are licensed to operate under the bahamas telecommunication act 1966 and lease capacity from btc or use vsat links. The provision of internet services has been liberalized but persons offering internet services are required to apply for individual licenses.

Introducing competition in the cellular mobile telephone market will stimulate the market, which in turn will lead to improved services, better products, reduction in fraud and reduced tariffs.

I trust, this policy outlines the importance to the bahamas of a telecommunication sector, which provides easy and economical access to state-of-the-art telecommunications for persons, business and government.


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