PM Says He’s Serious About Buying Out Digicel Operations In Antigua


The Antigua and Barbuda government says it remains committed to buying out the operations here of the Irish-owned telecommunication company, Digicel, as the authorities announce new initiatives in its ongoing battle to have the two foreign-owned companies share the spectrum space in Antigua and Barbuda with a state-entity.

Last month, Digicel, defended its decision to secure a High Court order preventing the government from sharing any of the 850 MHz spectrum it has been allocated with the state-owned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA).

But speaking on his privately-owned radio station over the last weekend, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he believes that Digicel “is showing an inclination to have possibly a 49-51 percentage situation.

“That’s the sticking point because we want the majority,” he said, adding that if the Digicel officials are prepared to “look at the possibility APUA…acquiring Digicel Antigua then we may have a deal”.

Earlier, Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan told radio listeners that the government is moving to amend the Telecommunications Bill so as to provide further protection for APUA.

Astaphan, who is among lawyers representing the state in the court battle, said the government is seeking to provide some level of protection for the only telecommunication company in the Eastern Caribbean, not owned by foreign interests.

“I agree with the position that there should be some protection because I have noticed coming from the Privy Council (Antigua and Barbuda’s final court) that …they accept that Parliament or the government may make decisions to ensure that private enterprises …or public enterprises that are locally owned are not wiped out by international competition.

“So that is something, with the Prime Minister’s specific permission, we will spend the next five to seven days looking at to see how best we can reformulate some of the provisions to give some protection to a local asset which is APUA and not open it up to the extent that they may or may not be unfairly prejudiced by having to comply with certain things,” Astaphan added.

He said the proposed legislation would allow for the authorities to make an order that “spectrum already allocated to a provider should be distributed or shared with somebody else to create an even playing field in the public interest subject only to the condition of compensation…”

Earlier this month, the government said 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”.

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.”

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 Digicel 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”.

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  1. Where is all this money coming from ? Gaston administration cant afford to fix the police stations and roads .

  2. Greed greed greed!. It wouldn’t surprise me if APUA wants those Mhz either to sell on or link up with a Chinese network.

  3. Government need to be looking at ways to divest its interest in APUA because of the dual role it plays. Regulator and Competitor. It is frightening to see what is happening in the telecommunications sector and if this buy out is allowed to happen, I am worried what will happen in other areas of economic activity. The truth is, part of APUA’s problem over the years is the government itself. Government is more concerned about loyalty and votes than profits. APUA is not surviving in this competitive market because of this.

    • Isn’t this the purpose of the Telecoms act, to create a independent regulator? Your love of private sector entities is divorced from the reality that no matter where in the world, they too play the game of trying to get political favor, to help get their agenda though (Eg Google: see Learning From Microsoft’s Mistakes, Google Invests Heavily In Influence By Russ Choma January 7, 2013 ). Guy fact is in most instances we are better off ensuring ownership stays in the public hands hence ensuring locals reap most of the benefits and not foreign share holders and many times external workers

      • What benefits do the public reap from APUA??????
        We can’t even get the water and electricity we are paying for much less dividends on profits.
        Do we own shares in the company. No.
        Do we get a say on the board. No
        APUA is only public in name.

        APUA for all intent and purposes is a private company.

        • Don’t you tire of chatting rubbish. Yes the general public owns the shares of APUA, not only individuals with access to $. Look they do have shortcomings eg (need better management, need to be more transparent) However the benefits:
          1. Subsidized water rates. Take the time to look at countries dependent on desalination and compare what they charge vs APUA
          2. Better value for 4G package in comparison to any of the others
          3. Better value for home internet in comparison to the others
          4. Customer service where a local human being actually answers the phone
          5. Local jobs vs outsourcing jobs to your favorite place Jamaica
          6. A business that better’s the technical capacity of our own
          7. A company more embracing of alternative energy than any of our OECS neighbors
          8. The profits are mostly used to subsidize other services
          9. More committed to A&B development than Flow or Digicel
          10. Most of its revenue spent locally

  4. The PM went to see Mr Putin the other day and the talk wasnt just about Visa and diplomatic relations, it was also about Flow and Digicel

  5. we are going backwards in terms of telecommunications, while the rest of the oecs has advanced to number portability we want to go back to a monopoly

  6. I wish the PM would use his so called smarts to create a new venture that will be owned by the people of Antigua and stop bullying foreign investors for their investments.

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