Letter to Editor
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 02:30
I enjoy listening to the Fire and Steel show on ZDK radio. I think the show is a great way to stay informed and to see another point of view that may not have been immediately available to me as a member of the public.
I listen to the hosts and try to separate the ALP politics from what is actually going on, but I think a lot of information is given out on the show that is critical.
Having said that, I was disappointed by Mr. Melford Nicholas' recent performance on the show regarding the developments in the telecommunications sector.
I got the feeling that at times, Nicholas had other interests than an honest interpretation of the facts.
For instance, host and MP Molwyn Joseph raised the issue of the existing frequency allocation imbalance, and that APUA had relied upon the promises and indications of the Ministry when making the purchase of $15M EC worth of LTE equipment.
Nicholas replied that he thought it was reckless of APUA to make this purchase before securing the necessary frequencies.
I find the point of view very strange. What Nicholas is essentially saying is that APUA, being a statutory corporation, should not have trusted the word of the Ministry of Telecommunications and by extension, the Government of which it is a part.
It is not unknown that Mr. Nicholas is an acquaintance of Mr. Clemente Samuel, the telecommunications officer of Antigua and Barbuda, and the man responsible for the allocation of frequencies in Antigua.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, but Mr. Nicholas honestly sounded as though he were trying to defend Mr. Samuel's name in this matter, as the fault would fall squarely on Mr. Samuel's shoulders for the frequency imbalance and the disadvantage of APUA in the 4G LTE expansion.
Mr. Nicholas also made other very strange remarks. He said that the Minister's signature on the document did not necessarily make the Government a party to the agreement, but rather a facilitator or "promoter" of the agreement.
There is nothing, not one line or clause, that Mr. Nicholas cited for this interpretation, and Mr. Joseph correctly pointed out to him that he was incorrect.
Now, I do not know why Mr. Nicholas would just decide, of his own opinion, with no evidence whatsoever, that the Government is not a party to the MOU which it signed, but rather a "promoter". I just don't see why he made that interpretation.
However, this was not Mr. Nicholas' only odd assumption. In another part of the discussion, Mr. Joseph started talking about VoIP, and a particular clause that doesn't permit VoIP technology to be used for calls originating and terminating in Antigua and Barbuda.
Mr. Nicholas then started going on about companies in the United States putting servers in Antigua and people bypassing the system, and completely ignored the fact that this clause is essentially disallows all uses of VoIP for domestic calls.
I use Skype, and I like to keep in touch with family and friends, even those in Antigua and Barbuda, using Skype. And I do not want the Government to ban it just because it is a thorn in the side of the Telecommunications companies.
I want those companies to compete and give me a better deal than Skype. However, what the MOU is doing is a re-run of what happened in 2007, when the Government started cracking down on Skype users.
And here is Mr. Nicholas, saying oh no, it's not going to be used to go after the "puny man". In my mind, this is Mr. Nicholas again making unwarranted assumptions. There was nothing mentioned by him, no clause, that prevented the Government or the Telecommunications companies from persecuting average people for the use of Skype.
So once again, I am at a lost as to how Mr. Nicholas just decided that this clause will only be enforced to stop bypassing of the Telecommunications companies and not of ordinary citizens, which it clearly has the power to do.
The last and final matter that troubled me was Mr. Nicholas' position on legislation. Mr. Joseph was of the view that the Government should act as a regulator, and should enact legislation in Parliament which sets the rules by which telecommunications companies conduct business in Antigua and Barbuda.
What Mr. Nicholas was saying was that the MOU is a sufficient way to temporarily manage the market pending the new legislation.
I find this unacceptable. Nicholas himself pointed out that the Government was aware of the situation since 2004, and should have planned well in advance. Nicholas was also made aware of the bill drafted in 2007, and that was never passed.
And even if legislation was not in place, this MOU idea is unheard of! No where in the world have I heard of the Government entering into an agreement with all the telecommunications companies.
These companies should be making the agreements themselves! It is not Government's position to intervene in legal business activities! That is one of the pillars of the free market!
That companies should be able to play the field in the ways they see as most successful, and all should play by the same set of rules!
That is the Government's job, to be the referee, not the captain of the team! I disagree strongly with Mr. Nicholas' assertion that the MOU will be adequate pending legislation.
While I can respect Mr. Nicholas as a former Executive at LIME, as well as a man with much technical experience, after hearing him on the show, I think he is still unprepared to be a politician, and unready for facing the legal and political side of telecommunications as opposed to the technical side.