Telecommunications Regulatory Board Associate Member Nixyvette Santini filed a scorching dissenting opinion to the agency’s decision to grant Puerto Rico Telephone the cable franchise license it has been seeking since 2008, saying among other things that the order “is unfounded and lacks a responsible analysis that would look out for protecting the public interest and competitive environment.”
In her 20-page document, she not only ripped the manner in which the second order granting the license was issued, but also a string of actions allegedly taken by TRB President Sandra Torres.
“I cannot recall a single instance in more than eight years of working in this Board when a determination has been reconsidered ‘motu propio,’” she said of the decision by Torres and newly appointed Associate Member Gloria Escudero to take the self-initiative to revert an order that was signed by a majority of the members.
“What’s even sadder is that I don’t know of any situation in the more than 15 years since the Board’s inception where a determination is voluntarily reconsidered, and is completely unfounded,” she said.
The events leading up to Santini’s dissenting order date to April of this year, when Santini, Torres and former Associate Member Vicente Aguirre began analyzing PRT’s petition, upon which they detected the existence of “crossed-subsidies” in the application. By definition, crossed-subsidizing happens when a company uses money from a thriving aspect of their business to float another that is not. That practice is illegal.
All along, she said, the TRB had been emphatic in its concern about the possibility that PRT would sell its broadband-based Claro TV service at prices below its real costs, as such a practice would “destroy the competitive environment.”
Although she acknowledged that PRT responded to the regulatory agency’s concerns, an analysis Torres requested in September from external telecom expert and economist, Douglas Meredith, certified that the company was still treading in anti-competitive waters.
Santini claimed that while Torres publicly said the franchise should have been granted as filed, without conditions, because it contained no indication of potentially unfair practices, “she never expressed dissidence and unanimously voted” to accept Meredith’s observations and suggestions, including imposing conditions on PRT upon granting the license during a session held Sept. 29, 2011.
Furthermore, she noted that Torres accepted to include Meredith’s confidential list of suggestions in the order conceding the license to PRT, which did not happen.
That decision, Santini said, was what impelled her and Aguirre — who completed his tenure at the agency on Oct. 3 — to draft the original resolution and order dated Oct. 20, containing a string of conditions.
“However, upon receiving it, the President deemed it did not reflect what was agreed upon and based her objections on the fact that Aguirre could not sign it because he had ended his term on Oct. 3,” she said in her opinion statement.
“Upon being met with the fact that the conditions agreed upon during the Sept. 29 session would be a requirement contrary to what she had been expressing through the media, an arbitrary and incongruent process began to invalidate what was clearly the official decision by the Board, which was validated in a full session,” Santini said, noting that the original order made public Nov. 2 contained all of the conditions unanimously agreed upon during prior sessions.
“If the president felt the resolution and order was contrary to what was agreed upon, she should have taken her concern to the Board, which she did not do,” Santini added, accusing Torres of defamation for telling the media that Santini and Aguirre acted against the law by signing an order she said was not unanimous.
OneLink sounds off
While PRT has remained mum in the aftermath of the agency’s decision to grant the franchise license they have so relentlessly sought, would-be competitor OneLink Communications said Santini’s dissident opinion raised “serious irregularities in the reconsideration process and in the removal of the safeguards established in the [Nov. 2] order.”
The company, which during the protracted three-year process has also raised red flags regarding the possibility of unfair practices by PRT, said Thursday it will review the complex documents and “soon express ourselves on this issue.”