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Dec 9, 2016

CCJ Hands Final Victory to Speednet in Battle with P.U.C.

A decision was handed down today by the Caribbean Court of Justice that has a significant impact on the telecommunications landscape. The Public Utilities Commission suffered a major blow when it was ordered to refund Speednet Communications, the parent company of Smart, almost three million dollars after levying excessive spectrum fees on the telecoms provider over a three-year period.  The matter has been thoroughly ventilated and, despite having lost the case twice in the high courts, the CCJ has ruled in favor of the claimants.  In 2013, the PUC raised the spectrum fee, the cost per channel, from fourteen hundred dollars to almost eight hundred thousand dollars annually.  Speednet decided to challenge the ambiguous definition of the word channel, as it appears in the regulations, as well as the rationale behind the sharp increase.   The company subsequently lost at the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal levels, before applying to the CCJ.  This morning, Justices Anderson and Wit delivered a judgment rejecting the view of the trial judge and the Court of Appeal and found that the term channel could refer to either voice channel or radio frequency.  The CCJ also ruled that the PUC, as the regulator, should bear the consequences of the indistinctness of the statute.  Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay represents Speednet Communications.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Speednet

“Essentially the case was about how you move voice channels, actually voice messages from one point to the other and the dispute was over whether or not a word in the schedule that was channel refers to voice channel or radio channel, radio frequency channel.  Speednet said it was radio frequency, the PUC insisted that it was voice channel.  It was unclear and we were maintaining from the very beginning that where a statute is unclear you must rule or lean or interpret it in favor of the taxpayer or the person who has to pay the fee.  The CCJ agreed with us that the word channel used in the regulation was not clear.  Once it is not clear you must apply the principle that you must construe it in favor of the person who has to pay the fee.  The difference insofar as the fee is concerned is that Speednet had to pay seven hundred and ninety-two thousand, five hundred dollars per year.  In this particular case they would end up paying one thousand, four hundred dollars because the court ruled in favor of Speednet.”

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