Govt discontinues criminal, civil cases against Digicel after amicable settlement

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Gregory Dean, Chief Executive Officer of Digicel

The Government of Guyana has discontinued civil and criminal proceedings against Digicel which it had accused of unlawfully using spectrum and owing $2 billion in licence fees, following a settlement between the parties, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, confirmed on Wednesday.

“The issue of controversy between the parties was amicably resolved after prolonged discussions. As a consequence, all proceedings filed by the parties against each other were withdrawn and discontinued,” the Attorney General told this publication.

He was, however, tight-lipped about the details regarding the settlement, and only stated that “the Government is satisfied that the matter has been resolved in the best national interest”.

Last month, Nandlall and the Telecommunications Agency filed a lawsuit against Digicel in which it was claimed that the company was unlawfully using 700 MHz and 1800 MHz of the telecommunications spectrum. In court documents seen by this publication, the Attorney General had sought damages in favour of the State in an amount not less than $200,000.

He had also asked the High Court for an order disgorging all revenue and profits earned by Digicel arising out of its unlawful activity, and a corresponding order that an assessment hearing is held and evidence taken to determine the amount to be awarded to the State.

In court documents seen by this publication, Nandlall deposed that on November 5 and 6, 2020, as part of the Telecommunications Agency’s frequency monitoring exercises, it was discovered that Digicel was unlawfully using the 700 MHz band to transmit between the frequencies of 770 MHz and 785 MHz at its Waterloo Street and Kitty, Georgetown towers.

It was discovered that the company was similarly abusing the 1800 MHz band. Nandlall had submitted that Digicel’s unlawful use of the spectrum was causing significant interference to GTT and E-Networks. He had argued that the company’s unlawful use of the spectrum was preventing E-Networks and GTT from deploying their services to tens of thousands of Guyanese.

Nandlall had said that Digicel was sent a cease-and-desist letter to stop the unauthorised use of the spectrum. Instead of complying, he pointed out, the company demanded that the letter be rescinded, stating that the spectrum was being used in the best interest of its customers.

Digicel had also instituted legal proceedings against the Telecommunications Agency in which it sought an order to quash the cease-and-desist letter. The Attorney General had also said that Digicel, despite being required to pay one per cent of its gross revenue as a licence fee for its cellular licence, never paid the Government the imposed fee, estimated to be more than $2 billion.

Even though the company was recently invoiced for a portion of the fees, Nandlall had said that the sum, at the time of the filing of the lawsuit, remained outstanding. To this end, he contended that Digicel was disrupting the Telecommunications Agency and the Government’s efforts to liberalise the sector, warranting urgent and immediate court intervention.

Meanwhile, Digicel Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gregory Dean had been summoned last month to appear at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on over a dozen charges which alleged that the company engaged in the unauthorised use of various portions of the telecommunications spectrum.

The criminal charges were instituted against Dean by Prime Minister Mark Phillips, who has responsibility for Guyana’s telecommunications sector, pursuant to the Telecommunications Act of 2016. The charges had alleged that the company, on a number of occasions, illegally used the 700 MHz and 1800 MHz bands. Some of the offences date back to 2020.

The Prime Minister had argued that the unauthorised use of the spectrum is in violation of Regulations 9(4)(b) and 11 of the Telecommunications (Spectrum Management) Regulations 2020, No 5 of 2020.