The Antigua and Barbuda government says it expects the High Court matter involving the two foreign telecommunications companies objecting to the plan to share the 850 megahertz spectrum with the state-owned utility company to “be heard over several years”.
A government statement said that the matter had been discussed during the Cabinet meeting earlier this week and that three lawyers representing the state had been “invited to advise on the most appropriate defence which ought to be adopted” in the case brought by Digicel and Flow.
Last month, the Irish-owned telecommunications company, Digicel, defended its decision to secure a High Court order preventing the government from confiscating any of the 850 MHz spectrum it has been allocated.
Digicel said that it had taken the legal action because it wanted to shield its customers from “significant service disruption and a negative impact on coverage.”
The government is hoping that the High Court will bring about a resolution to the opposition by Digicel and Flow, formerly the British telecommunication giant, Cable and Wireless, to share the island’s spectrum with the state-owned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA).
Digicel claims that APUA has almost twice as much spectrum as either of the other two operators in the market, despite having less than 25 per cent.
“APUA is hoarding a scarce and valuable resource,” the statement said, adding “in any other market, this would be a cause for concern for the regulator, but uniquely in Antigua & Barbuda, APUA is also the Regulator”.
In the statement, the Gaston Browne government said that the two telecommunications firms “are seeking to estop the Cabinet from dividing the 850 megahertz spectrum among Digicel, Flow and APUA/INET equally.
“The Cabinet accepted the proposed defence put forward by the legal team, although there is certainty that this matter will continue to be heard over several years, by several levels of the courts, before a final decision is rendered,” the statement noted.
It said that the Cabinet had further decided to bring before the Parliament at its next sitting The Telecommunications Bill 2019.
“The bill has been in draft form for several years; it had its first reading before, and has been through multiple consultations with stakeholders. The next sitting of Parliament will take place on June 20, 2019, when that Telecommunications Bill will have its second and third readings,” the statement added.
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