Monday, October 18, 2010

Haiti Regulator Adopts Interconnection Guidelines

Last week, the Conseil National des Télécommunications (CONATEL), the telecommunications regulator in Haiti, adopted new guidelines for the interconnection of telecommunication networks.  These guidelines provide detailed information on the procedure to be followed by new operators seeking to interconnect with existing operators, the content of interconnection agreements and the role of CONATEL in resolving interconnection disputes.

To my knowledge, these are the first interconnection guidelines issued by CONATEL since the Haitian telecommunications market was opened to competition in 1999.  Under their current licences, the operators are required to negotiate interconnection agreements, but little regulatory guidance is provided for the negotiation of these agreements (see, for example, art. 11 of the Teleco licence).  Whilst the operators have done their best over the past few years to negotiate interconnection agreements, the rights and responsibilities of each party (and of CONATEL) were not clearly specified under Haitian law.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Haiti has faced several interconnection disputes over the past decade.  In the summer of 2006, for example, Le Nouvelliste reported that Digicel was refusing to sign the interconnection agreement previously signed by Comcel et Haitel.  This dispute was eventually resolved, in September 2006, when Digicel, HaiTel and Comcel signed interconnection agreements.  Later, in October 2007, the incumbent fixed-line provider, Teleco (recently purchased by Viettel, the largest Vietnamese telecom operator) ceased all interconnection with Haitel due to non-payment of interconnection fees. This dispute was later resolved, following a ruling of the Haitian courts.

Interconnection disputes will continue to be a fact of life in the Haitian telecommunications market, despite the adoption of these guidelines. However, the adoption of these guidelines will clarify the rights and obligations of the parties.  This, in turn will make Haiti a more attractive and predictable market for investors wishing to enter the telecommunications market.

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