Digicel refutes claims of Antigua & Barbuda Govt

Above: Sir Robin Yearwood. Photo via Antigua Barbuda Labour Party.

For clarity, TechNewsTT has combined two separate press statements issued by Digicel regarding a legal challenge it is pursuing against the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.

Updated press statement issued on June 25, 2019.

Contrary to multiple media reports and statements made by the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda over the last two weekends, Digicel would like to make it clear that that it has not received any approaches of any kind at any time from the Prime Minister or anyone in the Government of Antigua & Barbuda with regard to a buyout of Digicel’s operations in the twin island state.

For the avoidance of doubt, any assertions to the contrary are complete fiction and represent part of an ongoing campaign by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda to distract and disseminate false information.

As such, Digicel would also like to take this opportunity to bring the focus back to the real issue at hand – namely the unfair, anti-competitive and illegal actions by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda in seeking to confiscate Digicel’s legally allocated spectrum for the benefit of the state-owned operator, APUA.

With the matter before the courts, Digicel will fight vigorously to defend its customers and its business in the interest of fair and healthy competition in Antigua & Barbuda.

Original press statement issued on June 14, 2019.

Digicel Antigua & Barbuda is today setting the record straight on the heels of grossly distorted assertions on social media by the Minister responsible for APUA, Sir Robin Yearwood, that Digicel benefited in its 850 MHz spectrum allocation from the actions of a former Telecommunications Officer, now employed by Digicel – and further that this spectrum allocation is linked to Digicel’s involvement in the award-winning GATE project.

Digicel was in fact awarded the 850 MHz spectrum when it entered the market in Antigua & Barbuda in 2006 and this licence was originally signed by none other than Sir Robin Yearwood himself as Minister.

APUA was awarded half of the 700 MHz spectrum that can be used for LTE as it was awarded “Band 13” of 700 MHz spectrum in 2012; Band 13 is the spectrum that Verizon specifically chose to use for LTE services to 150 million customers in the USA. APUA has never explained why it does not use this valuable spectrum.

APUA also has a Government monopoly over fixed communications in Antigua & Barbuda, which prevents Digicel and other operators from offering world class services to customers. Fixed fibre connections are needed to support high speed LTE mobile networks and Digicel offers world class fibre to the home services in other Caribbean countries but is prevented from doing so in Antigua & Barbuda. By blocking world class services, the APUA monopoly is holding the country and its people back from engaging in and benefiting from the digital revolution.

Digicel was also allotted 700 MHz spectrum in 2012 as part of its universally acclaimed GATE project which saw Digicel catapulting Antigua & Barbuda to the forefront of the knowledge economy by making it the first country in the region to benefit from LTE and putting tablets and broadband in the hands of thousands of primary and secondary students in both private and public schools. The GATE initiative was transformational promoting digital innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation and sustainability.

The letter signed by then Chairman of the Board of APUA, Clarvis Joseph, and shared on social media by Sir Robin shows only a very small piece of the extensive ongoing correspondence between the then Telecommunications Officer, Clement Samuel, and APUA and as such, paints a distorted picture of events leading up to the allocation of the 700 MHz spectrum to both APUA and Digicel.

In seeking to set the record straight and bring back the focus to the real issue of Digicel’s fight back against the Government’s intent to unfairly confiscate its legally allocated 850 Mhz spectrum – damaging service to thousands of customers in the process – Digicel would like to make clear:

  • The mobile licences issued in 1989 and 1998 were signed by none other than Sir Robin Yearwood as Minister of APUA.

  • When the mobile licence was issued by Sir Robin to Observer Publications in 1998, it was in the full recognition that the 850 MHz band would be used.

  • This same licence was transferred to Cingular and was subsequently transferred to Digicel in 2006.

  • The 850 MHz spectrum provided for in that licence was legally allocated by the Government to Digicel and is being fully utilised by Digicel.

  • That same 850 Mhz spectrum is what Sir Robin now supports confiscating to the sole benefit of APUA.

  • The then Telecommunications Officer, Clement Samuel, never issued any 850 MHz spectrum to Digicel or to any other operator as it had been previously assigned under Sir Robin’s watch.

  • APUA has already been assigned 70 MHz of paired spectrum (more than the total assigned to Digicel or Flow) across the 600 MHz (in 2018), 700 MHz (in 2012) and 1800/2100 MHz (in 2018) bands which it does not use. The 2018 “sweetheart deal” assignments were done without any consultation with other licenced operators and without any tender process.

Digicel Antigua and Barbuda CEO, Dwayne Tulloch, comments; “In disseminating false facts and attacking the good character of a Digicel executive formerly employed by the Government, the Minister is deliberately muddying the waters to draw attention away from the very unfair, anti-competitive and illegal actions of the Government in seeking to confiscate a portion of our legally allocated 850 MHz spectrum.”

He continues; “All of those actions are unacceptable and our vigorous defence of our customers and our business is already off to a successful start with the courts granting a stay, as well as expressions of support coming in from all quarters – both here in Antigua and internationally. Our fight back continues as we put the real facts before the people of Antigua & Barbuda and ask the Courts to make a determination which results in all parties being able to conduct their business to the benefit of consumers and the overall betterment of Antigua & Barbuda.”