Concerned about a possible “loss of balance” at the Telecommunications Regulatory Board, a coalition of telecom companies expressed their collective concern Thursday over the appointment of Gloria Escudero Morales as associate member.
As News is my Business reported exclusively last month, Escudero — sister of Ports Authority Executive Director Alberto Escudero — was appointed by Governor Luis Fortuño in August to occupy the post at the agency left vacant by outgoing member Vicente Aguirre.
Escudero, a member of the Republican party and active New Progressive Party militant, retired from Puerto Rico Telephone after 30 years. Her appointment is being considered during a closed-door executive meeting at the Senate today.
“For the first time a large group of telecommunications industry members has come together to raise our concerns about what the Committee on Banking, Consumer Affairs and Public Corporations chaired by Lornna Soto, is planning to do,” said attorney Raul Mariani, spokesman for the telecommunications industry. “Today, during an executive meeting and away from what is usual and customary, which is toconduct public hearings, they are looking to move Escudero’s appointment so that it is confirmed by the Senate, probably next week.”
The group of companies composed by AT&T Mobility, Choice Cable, Columbus Business Solutions, Liberty Cablevision, OneLink Communication, Pacific Phones, Teléfonica Larga Distancia and WorldNet Telecommunications, sent a letter to Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz on Sept. 7, warning him of the danger posed to the TRB’s balance of powers.
The group said it is worrisome that the three member board would be composed by two former PRT executives, so the balance would be tilted in favor of that already dominant carrier. Current TRB President Sandra Torres worked at the company for 30 years as well.
“Having two associate members from PRT-Claro on the board would undermine the confidence that competing companies have in the Board as a fair and impartial body, putting into question their integrity and credibility,” said Jorge Hernández, vice president of OneLink Communications.
The companies that oppose Escudero’s appointment said there are currently several major issues before the TRB’s consideration related to PRT-Claro — such as market opening, cross-subsidies, and interconnection costs, — so the possible confirmation of Escudero as associate member would open the door for competing companies to lose cases against PRT-Claro, said Michael Carrosquilla, general manager of Choice Cable TV.
Moreover, the companies agreed the appointment sends a “nefarious” message to the competitive telecommunications industry and the investment markets in the sense that the government of Puerto Rico has decided to support PRT-Claro, endangering hundreds of advances that have been achieved by long-distance, local wireline and wireless telephone companies.
“The competitive telecom industry employs more than 5,000 employees in Puerto Rico, a fifth more than PRT. And this is also in danger,” said, meanwhile, Naji Khoury, general manager of Liberty Cablevision.
Finally, the group said the designee does not have the specialized knowledge required by the state and federal telecom regulation, and because she has had access to or worked on issues that could be before the TRB’s consideration, there could be decision-making issues down the road.
“Consequently, by prior rulings of the Government Ethics Office in cases of previous associate members, Escudero would have to refrain from any matter that she had worked on at PRT,” said David Bogaty, president of WorldNet Telecommunications, concluding that “this could affect the Board’s work pace as more than 95 percdnt of cases involve PRT.”