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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Does TATT have teeth?

Business Day Editorial

THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS Authority (TATT) was set up under law with a wide mandate. Its functions include: to regulate, monitor and ensure compliance with licences and their conditions, to establish industry standards, to advise the executive on international developments, to investigate and resolve allegations and complaints, to test and certify equipment, and to ensure the orderly and systematic development of telecommunications throughout TT.

Yet there is nothing “orderly” or “systematic” about the situation that has unfolded in relation to TATT’s oversight of the issues relating to the minority shareholding in state telecoms company TSTT.

On March 26, 2015, TATT approved a $3 billion merger between CWC and Columbus Communications, the parent company of cable TV provider Flow. Previously on March 12, TATT had “denied” permission for any such merger unless CWC could vow to divest itself of its 49 per cent stake in TSTT, so as to avoid anti-competitiveness in the sector. CWC would then be required to provide an adequate plan for its intended development of Flow/Columbus.

“We are aware that it has taken much longer than expected,” said acting TATT CEO Cynthia Reddock-Downes last month. “When we started off we gave CWC one year and then 18 months in which to complete the project.”

The shifting goalpost for compliance was the first worrying sign. The fact that, almost half a decade later the matter is lingering, is the second. Ownership of CWC has even changed hands – as of 2017, it is now controlled by entities under the Liberty Group – while the matter remains pending.

Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte does not foresee any adverse impact on TSTT’s operations. He disclosed CWC placed their 49 per cent shareholding in a trust.

“That needs to be dealt with,” he said.

But whether or not the matter affects TSTT’s operations, it certainly raises questions about the regulator. Does TATT have the teeth required to be taken seriously?

During a Parliament committee last December several TATT officials suggested the regulator lacked legal powers to optimise its effectiveness. And in a litigious world, even relatively straightforward TATT procedures, such as the issuing of a warning letter, can become caught up in a whirlwind of court procedure, legal expense, and controversy as we learned in relation to Radio and TV Jaagriti.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing: there may well be good reasons why the TSTT matter is yet to be wrapped up. But at the end of the day, it does not look good when regulators can’t have their orders implemented.

And none of this touches on the already immense difficulties of regulating the 37 FM radio stations that fall under the TATT umbrella.

If there is anything the TSTT matter teaches us it is this: TATT must be re-examined.

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