Interview: Cris Seecheran

In what way does the telecommunications industry benefit from the arrival of new investors?

CRIS SEECHERAN: In bringing in new investors, two main objectives are achieved. Introducing new players to the market creates a more competitive environment, incentivising a more diverse, affordable and improved array of services. On the business side, improved competition translates into stronger ICT infrastructure, which is necessary for attracting foreign investors to any sector of the Trinidad and Tobago economy.

The government is working with the World Bank on two major infrastructure projects. The first is the creation of a national ICT broadband infrastructure through a public-private partnership. The second involves the creation of a second landing point for subsea cables coming into T&T. The new point will diversify the security of the communications infrastructure in both Trinidad and Tobago, as the plan envisages a second cable into Tobago at a separate landing point.

How is the broadband agenda being brought forward in fixed and mobile services?

SEECHERAN: The government’s SmarTT strategy 2014-2018 sets an aggressive target for the deployment of broadband in fixed and mobile contexts. iGovTT is responsible for the demand side of the equation. On the supply side, our focus is on improving the ICT offer. Our fixed broadband penetration is relatively good and we expect further improvements in terms of speeds, prices and services that will soon be made available to individual and corporate consumers. In the mobile market, the third operator will bring more competition in terms of adoption of new technologies. The 700 MHz spectrum is particularly relevant, as it will allow for the rolling out of long-term evolution 4G.

I believe it will take six to 18 months for the third operator to be active in the market. In six months you can build enough infrastructure to start a good service and in less than two years we expect the provider to have a complete mobile network. Broadly speaking, TATT agrees on a five year roll-out plan, setting intermediate coverage targets with every operator.

To what extent will the new operator utilise the existing telecommunications infrastructure?

SEECHERAN: I would expect new facilities to be built. The significant area where there could be some sharing of facilities would be the towers. We do not have the power to mandate this but for environmental reasons we do encourage the sharing of facilities, whether this involves towers or inactive facilities.

If there is available space on existing towers we hope that the different operators will negotiate the terms of agreement. We have designed frameworks for what we call Reference Access Offers that are available for providers to use in their negotiations. We also offer the TATT to be an observer in negotiations to ensure that there is fair play among the parties.

What actions are being taken to enhance competition in the broadcasting industry?

SEECHERAN: Broadcasting is a very active sector. One of our main focus areas recently has been seeking to get all subscription TV broadcasting stations fully in compliance with intellectual property rights. The national providers are almost fully compliant, but among the niche TV providers there are different levels of compliance and we are aggressively tackling the issue.

As in the rest of the Caribbean, the concern specifically relates to the so-called free-to-air television programmes that are available in the US, such as ABC, NBC or CBC. These programmes are not authorised to be retransmitted in T&T, however most subscription TV stations still carry the programmes. We faced the same problem with HBO programming up to two years ago, and HBO created its own Caribbean feed. We are encouraging a similar solution with the other programmes but this will depend on their commercial evaluations. TATT is tackling the issue independently by shutting down the retransmission of non-compliant programmes.