The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has Acted Immorally!

The government of Antigua and Barbuda has arbitrarily forbidden two out of the three main licensed internet service providers from delivering internet services to consumers through the medium of optical fiber. At the same time, it has invested multimillions in its state-owned-enterprise, APUA Inet, to deploy fiber.

You may say, so what is immoral about that?

Before I start to explain what I regard immoral, let me first define immoral.

The Oxford dictionary defines immoral as: “not conforming to accepted standards of morality”. Some synonyms are unethical, bad, wrongful, wicked, evil and unprincipled.

In this particular context, I wish to convey the meanings of unethical, wicked and unprincipled.

The best way to make you understand the unethical nature of the Government’s decision is expressed in the scenario I describe below.

Let us suppose that you have been pursuing a promotion to the next senior level in your career but in order to achieve that you require completing academic courses that run during working hours.

Let us also suppose that you have a coworker who is pursuing the same career and has the same ambitions as you. You both work in the same department and share the same boss. However, you learned that your department is paying for your coworker’s courses and allowing your coworker time-off with pay to attend the required courses. At the same time when asked, your boss refuses to give you any time-off, and makes it clear that your only choice is quitting your job in order to pursue your academic goals at your own expense.

If you were the employee that was required to quit, how would you feel about the treatment you got?

I would like to suggest that this scenario describes what the government has done to Flow and Digicel.

APUA Inet is the employee who has received the time-off with pay and has its tuition covered by the boss.

Do you think that this behaviour by the boss can be characterised as principled? Is that really fair? This treatment goes beyond favourtism, it is aimed at sabotaging your career!

Would you not immediately think that that unfair treatment was evil and wicked?

To think otherwise would be dishonest, in my opinion.

Let me explain why the situation with the government, Flow/Digicel, and APUA inet is exactly like the scenario I described.

If anyone of you can remember, when internet services were first offered to the public, it was done so via a dialup telephone line. It was slow allowing speeds up to 56kbps. As the last mile technology evolved, we saw higher internet speeds delivered through the use of wireless and DSL technology. Today that next speed improvement comes in the form of optical fiber.

Any internet service provider who is unable to offer fiber connectivity will inevitably go the way of the Dodo bird, particularly if another service provider is able to offer fiber.

This is the exact scenario that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has highhandedly orchestrated. By allowing APUA to deploy fiber exclusively, it has robbed the ability of the other licensed internet service providers, in this case Digicel and Flow, from staying in business in the near future.

By comparison, it is like saying to Flow and Digicel, you are only allowed to provide slow speed dialup internet service while APUA inet can provide high speed DSL service. No consumer in his right mind would buy slow speed internet service from Flow or Digicel when APUA Inet has higher speeds.

It therefore stands that to restrict Flow and Digicel to the slower technologies while APUA Inet is allowed to deliver high speed optical fiber technologies, is tantamount to putting those companies out of business in the long run. This is what I consider most immoral and unethical.

As citizens, we expect our government to be fair and balanced in its dealings with everybody. In this situation, there is no appearance of fairness.

It appears that the government deliberately wants to put Flow and Digicel out of business. Incidentally, Flow and Digicel are significant contributors to the treasury of the government. The minister concerned mentioned that they received over $22M in the last tax cycle.

The lesson you should learn from this, is if your government can treat these large companies like this, what is to say that they would not destroy your small business tomorrow in a similar way.

The government’s handling of this situation is a prime example of where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I call on the government to do what is moral!

The 850MHz Iceberg

As I listen to the mud slinging going on in the public media, I refuse to reduce my thinking to that level.

I am really only interested in understanding what are the underlying, big-picture facts and having determined what those are then I will seek to suggest a principled approach on how we might achieve a fix to the situation in which we find ourselves.

As the debate wages on on what is considered the “fair” allocation of radio spectrum, the first question you must ask yourself is: who has the power to allocate radio frequencies? The second is: can APUA, C&W or Digicel allocate frequencies to themselves?

I daresay that only the government of Antigua and Barbuda has the authority to allocate radio frequencies. So what can we conclude from this?

The logical conclusion that can be inferred from all of this, is if we now find ourselves in a situation where spectrum has been unfairly allocated, then the only one culpable for this state of affairs, is the government of Antigua and Barbuda, regardless of political administration.

It is therefore fair to say that had the government being operating in a “fair” and neutral way from the beginning we would not have found ourselves in this quagmire.

I believe that understanding who or what is responsible for this confusion sets the context for how we might fix the problem.

If we start from the premise that government is responsible for this crisis, then it means that it cannot rightfully pass the blame onto anyone else. It also means that the government cannot rightfully take the moral high ground on this issue.

The government must adopt a stance that it, and no one else, is to blame. It therefore, cannot blame the players in the telecom industry for rightfully looking after their self-interests. It is for this reason that the government regulates this industry in the first place.  It is well understood that if the independent players we left to themselves to decide how frequency spectrum were divvied up, there would be vastly unfair allocations and far more fights like this.

So how did we get here despite the government’s authority to regulate fairly? This answer is left open to wide speculation.

So how do we go about remedying this issue?

For me the only acceptable approach is to bring all parties behind closed doors and have a reasonable discussion on the matter. This matter, in my humble opinion, should have never been brought into the public domain.

It is clear to me that there is an underlying breakdown of trust between the government and those that it regulates. Consequently, we now see this matter brought before the legal courts and the court of public opinion for resolution.

None of those two courts may necessarily produce an optimal solution that is in the best interest of all stakeholders including the tax payers of this country.

I do not agree that the solution should be a unilateral decree of the government to compulsorily revoke leased property when there is no evidence that the players broke the law in having more than what is considered their fair share.

Now that this matter has reached this far, we see that we are on the cusp of violating principles that we claim we espouse as a nation. What I am witnessing is that the government is now set to violate the principles of  “property rights” for the sake of expediency. This is a big thing for me because it transcends this current issue.

To bring this issue into focus more clearly, let me draw a corollary to the current situation by way of example.

Let us suppose that you went to the government of the day and after completing all of the legal requirements of your application, you were successful in gaining a 20 year lease to 1 acre of land for your farming project.

With your 20 year lease in hand you go about buying your tools, machinery and equipment;  you buy your seeds; you hire your workers; you get a loan; and you plow the plot. From your business plan you determine that you would break even by year 10. How would you feel if in year 8 of operating your farm, you get a notice from government telling you that in the interest of ‘fair’ allocation of farm lands, you are now forced to give up 50% of the land immediately?  How fair is that? You followed the rules, you did nothing to break the law but yet, you are now asked to suffer loss by no fault of your own!

That act of government, in my opinion, is a violation of your property rights. The concept of property rights is the foundation of any free market economy. This is one of the concepts behind the “Ease of Doing Business” surveys.

Is Antigua and Barbuda a totalitarian state?

What message is the government sending to the business community? Is it saying that on a whim it can randomly take away the rights of legitimate individuals or companies to enjoy the benefits of the property they own or lease?

To me, this is an omen. Today, the telecom industry is pillaged and nationalized, tomorrow it may be the hotel industry and thereafter, it may be my private home. Where will this end?

My conclusion to all of this is that this problem was created by government and therefore government should not simply violate the “property rights” of the players in the industry as an ostensible means to fix the mess it created. This creates a double whammy for the industry.

This matter needs to go back to the negotiating table behind closed doors and with a spirit that the property rights of each player will be respected. If the government wants something that someone rightfully holds, the only way it can have it is: a) by the involved party willingly giving it up or; b) by taking it by force, and it such case, the dispossessed party is entitled to a fair market price for his property, as the laws of compulsory acquisition already dictate.

Personally, I am never in favour of forcibly taking away someone’s legitimate property. This is normally called theft, whether done by an individual, a group of individuals or the government.

Let’s get back to the negotiating table.

Cable and Wireless and Columbus Communications Merger Should be Allowed

Monopolies are generally created in two ways: a) by government and b) by the market.

In the case of a government sponsored monopoly, a company is granted the rights to engage in a particular business to the exclusion of all other businesses. An example would be APUA.

Continue reading Cable and Wireless and Columbus Communications Merger Should be Allowed