The government’s Chief Information Officer, Juan E. Rodríguez, urged the Telecommunications Regulatory Board Monday to give way to Puerto Rico Telephone’s petition for a cable television franchise license to launch islandwide IPTV service, as it would benefit consumers, competition and the economy.
PRT, which does business as Claro, has been after the license since 2008, but the approval process has been held hostage by a legal battle that San Juan cable provider OneLink Communications has been waging at the TRB and local courts.
During his testimony, Rodríguez chastised the board for dragging its feet, saying it had enough expertise to decide whether to grant Claro’s petition without the need for public comment — the point of Monday’s public hearing.
“There’s no more time to waste. This public hearing contributes nothing to the board’s duties related to this case,” he said. “The board, with its expertise to evaluate numbers and technology objectively can issue its decision without having to consult consumers or other competitors, which may not have any information that sheds light on its decision.”
Rodríguez said the board’s associate members who summoned Monday’s hearing — Nixyvette Santini and Vicente Aguirre — were irresponsible for failing to take advantage of a prior hearing in April to get the answers to their questions and make a decision within the established 180 day-period.
“Puerto Rico does not have the luxury to waste time in making a decision regarding technologies that can significantly further or delay economic and social development,” he said. “On behalf of [Gov. Luis Fortuño], we ask that this board issue, sticking to an objective analysis of the information it has, a fair and final decision upon concluding these hearings.”
Throughout the daylong hearing process, the animosity among the TRB’s presiding members was unequivocally evident. At one point, agency President Sandra Torres read the full text of a dissenting order she released last week, stating her position in favor of granting the license. Among other things, Torres said the case could have been decided in 2008, after PRT submitted its application request for a second time.
“I resent when it is said that this case could have been solved in 2008 when this case has been paralyzed for different reasons and it is now when we are able to act,” said Aguirre, during a discourse of several minutes, when he reviewed Claro’s past behavior and its negativity in providing requested information.
“As the file is right now, we would have to deny the application, and that is why we’re holding this hearing, so we don’t have to deny it,” said Aguirre, whose term is up in September. “PRT’s interests don’t have to coincide with the public interest, we also have to have an industry that can compete fairly. The problem is that PRT has a past and a present that we must look at to determine its future.”
Santini and Aguirre are requiring more information from the company on how it will behave if it gets the franchise license. Specifically, they are concerned about the possibility that Claro will cross-subsidize — or use the profits it gains from one of its lines of business to float another service — in detriment to competitors.
In response to that, PRT’s legal representative during the hearing, Eduardo Guzmán, said there is no such thing at present, because “the IPTV service is not being offered.”
“After it is launched, we have to abide by the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations and the Board’s oversight and authority. In that sense, if there is a concern about cross-subsidies moving forward, that is easy to resolve. It’s not an issue worthy of creating these controversies,” Guzmán said.
Aguirre walks out
That, among other things, is OneLink’s concern. During the hearing, the company’s legal representative, Jorge Bauermeister, submitted multiple documents to illustrate PRT’s pattern of breaking local and federal laws, as well as competitive violations incurred by its parent América Móvil. With that, he also sought to prove his point that PRT was “hiding information” and “afraid to reveal the truth about its costs.”
Guzmán then asked the board for time to review the documents and respond to each one in writing.
However, that request seemingly irked Aguirre, who interrupted Guzmán repeatedly during his turn to depose, finally walking out of the hearing before it was over.
That act angered Torres, who for the next 10 minutes or so heatedly berated Aguirre, calling him “unprofessional and disrespectful.”
Aside from gleaning the public interest of granting the license, Monday’s hearing was also called to give Santini and Aguirre the opportunity ask PRT the questions they had pending. However, the day moved along without such questions coming up, so the hearing will continue today.