Effective August 1, licence fees for telecommunications sector service providers will be reduced. George E. Moss, Executive Director of the Public Utilities Commission, has announced a new fee structure, also indicating that *”…an important function of the PUC is the promotion of competition to provide consumers with wider choices at lower prices.”* Consequently, as a part of the current exercise, the PUC also is granting licence fee discounts of 50% in the first year and 25% in the second year, to encourage new operators to enter the telecommunications market.
In a recent presentation to the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO), PUC Chairman Peter I. Bethel said *”The basic philosophy of the Government of The Bahamas is that the private sector should be the engine of economic development, and that the role of the government is to create and maintain an economic environment in which free enterprise can flourish.”*
The revisions include fees covered under Sections 10 and 31 of the Telecommunications Act, the former dealing with Internet Service Providers and wide ranging telecommunications services, and the latter with the radio frequency spectrum or radio-communications licences for mobile radios, ship radio stations, aircraft radio stations, aeronautical and marine operators.
Fixed dollar fees are being cut by 74%, with the Commission abandoning the 2% of revenue provision for paging and trunking services. Telecommunications service providers with revenues of $500,000 less now attract an annual licence fee of $2,600, with a 0.524% of Annual Gross Revenue charge for those with revenues greater than $500,000. This move was prompted by an assessment of costs and needs, and the requirement that the regulatory agency need only recover its costs.
The radio frequency spectrum or radio-communications licences for both stations and operators reportedly were set as far back as 1975. The PUC’s cost of processing, monitoring and enforcing these licences and managing the radio frequency spectrum reportedly were not been covered as required by the Telecommunications Act.
According to the Executive Director, there was clearly a need to rectify the situation by increasing the outdated fees and reducing or rationalising others.
In preparation for the privatisation of the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (Batelco), the PUC also has established radio-communications licence fees for fixed radio services and the use of the spectrum for cellular radio operations. Previously, Batelco was not required to pay fees for the use of the radio frequency spectrum with respect to those services.
In pursuing its policy for liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, the Bahamas Government intends to privatise Batelco and to sell 49% of its shares to a strategic partner with the resources and ability to bring the company up to the best international standards, and in due course to sell additional shares to the general public. Additionally, its Telecommunications Sector Policy mandates the opening up of the sector to competition, subject to a short period of exclusivity in voice services for the company succeeding Batelco. All other services would be opened to competition immediately.