Prime Minister Gaston Browne says the foreign owned telecommunication companies, Digicel and Flow, could “jump high or jump low” but they will have to share the spectrum space in Antigua and Barbuda.
Last month, the Irish-owned telecommunications company, 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 private radio station here, Prime Minister Browne told listeners that Digicel and Flow, formerly the British telecommunication giant, Cable and Wireless that they would not survive any spectrum war against APUA and his administration.
He said his government was prepared to buy out Digicel operations here.
“I have already sent a message to the owner of Digicel to tell him that APUA is willing to buy them. So let’s talk. If that’s the way we need to resolve it and we are waiting for them to get back. So if one has to go it will not be APUA they better recognise that”.
Browne said he recognises that the telecom space “is somewhat over crowded because the market is so small, it really probably justifies a monopoly or at best two players, so if one has to leave, I want to them it won’t be APUA.
“So between Digicel and Flow they need to make up their mind,” Browne told radio listeners, as he blamed the former administration of having “literally displaced APUA and gave Digicel all of the lucrative spectra”.
He said that APUA does not benefit from the revenue collected from roaming charges because it “does not have that type of low-frequency spectrum” and that the existing playing field is not equal.
“You are telling me what we must sit down and allow that inequity to continue. So we say to them you have 21 gigabytes of space let’s share it 7-7-7 and that is what they are resisting,” he said, insisting that all three telecommunications companies can survive under that arrangement.
“There are large telecommunication companies all over the world, with millions of customers sharing that kind of spectrum, and they (Digicel) with their little two by two customer base are trying to say to us that they cannot share because they want to keep out APUA,” Browne said, noting that the Court has given the parties three months to resolve the issue on their own.
“And I hope they corporate because ultimately if they think they going to kill APUA, I can say to them not under my administration. If anything they will get killed they are not killing APUA, mark my word about that,’ Browne said, dismissing suggestions that his government is hostile to investors.
“It’s not because we hustle to foreign investors we welcome foreign investment but this idea that you can just come and extract and put a company that is owned by the people of Antigua and Barbuda at a disadvantage that cannot be fair,” he said, adding that he was not against competition.
“We said to them, dress over, small up yourselves. We are not trying to disrupt their services. We said we will work with you to make sure there is a minimal amount or perhaps no disruption to your services,” he said, adding that the government is bringing an “external firm with no skin in the game” to assess whether the spectrum can be shared even though such an assurance has come from local experts.
“I want to say on the basis that he confirms that the spectrum can be shared, Digicel and Flow can jump high, they can jump low they have no choice but to share,” Browne said, adding “either share or leave and we make no apologies about it.
“You know why, it is our assets,” he told listeners.