Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 5th 2017 Contents BG4 | COVER STORY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JANUARY 5 • 2017
DrJohn Prince is back
as the top regulator
of the country's $5
This, ten years after
he left the Telecommunications Au-
thority of T&T following differences
of opinion with the then TATT chair-
man, Khalid Hassanali.
"I feel vindicated. I did not do an-
ything wrong," said Prince, respond-
ing to a Business Guardian question
about how he felt being back at TATT
almost exactly ten years after he left
Speaking about his departure from
TATT in 2006, Prince said:
"There was an agreement that I
go home from December 27, 2006,
subject to me being paid all benefits
to which I was entitled as executive
director for three years.
"I had a serious difference of opin-
ion with the then chairman, and he
asked me to proceed on vacation
leave until further notice."
He said the disagreement between
himself and the chairman was over
the interconnection agreement be-
tween Digicel and its majority state-
owned competitor, TSTT.
"I indicated that, according to the
cost model that I have, there should
be reciprocal payments for intercon-
nection. Digicel objected to that and
the chairman (Hassanali) was of the
view that I was very strident in my
There were other differences be-
tween the two men on human re-
source issues, such as promotions
and meetings with junior staff.
Prince said he objected to being
asked to proceed on leave and chal-
lenged the decision of the chairman
in court. He said the court sent him
back to work, but the TATT board
appealed the judgement.
"Rather than go through long lit-
igation, we came to a consent order
whereby I would go home and get
paid for three years."
Prince said that "in the period
when he was in Siberia," the In-
Union, the United Nations agency
responsible for information and
communications technology, kept
him "very close to them" by giving
him consultancies throughout the
This allowed him to keep in touch
with the changes that have occurred
in the local telecommunications sec-
tor in the last decade.
Asked about those changes, the
new CEO of TATT said there have not
been as many in the local industry,
"except for the fact that the new op-
erator, Digital, has become as strong a
competitor as the incumbent, TSTT"
in the provision of mobile telephony
He estimated that TSTT now
controls 42.7 per cent of the mobile
market in terms of subscribers,
He said when he left TATT ten
years ago, T&T was about to intro-
duce the 3G mobile service, which is
being phased out at this point to be
replaced by 4G LTE.
Bad spectrum plan
One of the first things he realised
when he returned to TATT was that
it had a " questionable spectrum plan
for 4G LTE."
Under the previous management
at the telecommunications regulator,
TATT issued a request for proposals
(RFP) in 2014 calling for a third mo-
bile provider, which would provide
This created an issue, said Prince,
because the two established players,
Digicel and TSTT, would also be in-
terested in providing 4G LTE services
to their customers.
"The spectrum plan we have now
provides 4G LTE spectrum for two
providers in the preferred 700 and
1700 Mhz bands.
"I am faced with that dilemma now
as to how to get the engineers to redo
the spectrum plan.
"That's because if we are going
to have three providers, you must
have a level playing field. So TSTT
and Digital have to get spectrum in
those two bands as well as whoever
is the third mobile provider."
Asked if his proposal to provide
spectrum to three providers, instead
of two, meant that TATT would ditch
the existing RFP, Prince said he could
not say that.
"That's because the way the Tele-
communications Act is written, the
government grants the concession
but TATT has full control over spec-
trum," said Prince, meaning that the
regulator assigns the spectrum.
"Once the government grants the
concession, we have to find the spec-
trum," he said.
His criticism of the current spec-
trum plan is that it followed the
American model, in some ways, but
did not use an auction to determine
which provider got which band.
Prince said, technically, the spec-
trum plan can be redesigned to ac-
commodate three providers; a pro-
cess that he envisages would take not
more than six months.
"It is a question of getting the
spectrum allocation for 4G LTE right.
And we promised ourselves that we
are going to do it," he said, adding
that this would involve consulta-
tions with the two existing mobile
service providers, including discus-
sions on how they will accommodate
the public safety requirements of the
The TATT CEO said he has had two
very fruitful meetings with Digicel
since coming into office and he is due
to meet with TSTT today, insisting
that neither of the two mobile in-
cumbents should be denied 4G LTE
All he would say of the previous
dispensation's decision to pair the
third mobile licence with 4G LTE
spectrum is that it would "serious-
ly disadvantage" one of the two in-
Asked whether the third potential
recipient of 4G LTE spectrum would
be Liberty Global, without confirm-
ing, Prince pointed out, CWC (now
Liberty Global) owns 49 per cent of
majority state-owned TSTT.
"So, if that 49 per cent remains
with CWC, do you understand what
is happening there? We would have
something that resembles a duopoly."
At the end of March 2015, CWC
acquired 100 per cent of the equity
of Columbus International (which
trades in the region as Flow) for
US$1.85 billion. In May last year,
Liberty Global announced that it had
completed the acquisition of Cable
& Wireless Communications (CWC)
in a transaction valued at about for
US$7.4 billion on an enterprise value
Asked for his thoughts on CWC
continuing to own 49 per cent of
TSTT, Prince said:
"My thoughts on that are very
clear: CWC must sell their 49 per
cent as soon as possible."
He admitted that TATT does not
have much statutory power to man-
date the sale of the 49 per cent stake
in TSTT by CWC (Liberty Global)
within a particular period.
"What we are hoping is that by
moral suasion and good sense that
CWC would agree to sell the 49 per
cent stake in a company it cannot
control and concentrate on building
the company it does control (Flow),"
He said that CWC has requested
an extension until June 2017 in order
to sell its stake in TSTT. Prince said
he signed off on a letter to CWC on
December 28, 2016, requesting that it
submit its operational plan to TATT
between January and June 2017. This
would require CWC to outline what
it intends to do to advance the sale
of the shares.
Questioned on if it is appropriate
that the holding company for 51 per
cent of TSTT (National Enterprises
Ltd) should be involved in looking
for a buyer for the 49 per cent stake,
Prince said: "That's a difficult one;
only if NEL is looking for a buyer so
that NEL could own 100 per cent of
the shares of TSTT."
On the issue of competition be-
tween the mobile providers, Prince
said that right now, it is working and
has been "a tremendous success."
In that regard, he said there is need
for a third operator to provide 4G LTE
services because of the government's
commitment to digital inclusiveness
through which everyone would have
access to, especially the disadvan-
Telecommunications rates are very
competitive within the Caribbean, he
said, but if T&T wants to be a finan-
cial centre in the region, "those rates
have to come down a bit."
Three 4G LTE
licences by Q3
TATT's chairman. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
New telecom regulator:
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