TRB President: Claro IPTV franchise license ‘illegal’
Less than 24 hours after the Telecommunications Regulatory Board made public a resolution and order that seemingly granted the cable television franchise license Puerto Rico Telephone (Claro) has been seeking since 2008, agency President Sandra Torres said Friday the decision is “null” because its content is radically different from what was discussed earlier this year.
“This decision is null because it contains stipulations that were not agreed upon by the three members when we convened in August,” she said. “I am completely dismayed and pained over the process that has taken place over the past three months.”
In a dissident decision, Torres explained that the resolution signed and released Oct. 20 was a document that substituted the original consensus order containing a number of conditions that PRT would have to abide by in exchange for the franchise license. Those conditions would also be applicable to the rest of the cable television industry, she noted.
However, in the weeks following a heated public hearing in August, the three members — Torres, Nixyvette Santini and Vicente Aguirre — reached a preliminary agreement to grant PRT its license, which was to be laid out in a document to be drafted in mid-September.
But early last month, Aguirre — who appeared to be against granting PRT its petition — ended his tenure at the agency, and was succeeded by Gloria Escudero on Oct. 4. It was not until Oct. 20 that the new member met with Torres and Santini to discuss the IPTV case, Torres explained in her dissident decision.
“That day, during the meeting, I noticed that Santini was coming in and out of the office, which in any case would not be unusual. However, I later learned that Aguirre was at the TRB that day and he and Santini signed a resolution and order that they prepared, which is substantially different from what was submitted with the terms approved by the three of us,” she said.
The resolution and order was Nov. 2, is “null and illegal as it was strictly not what was approved during the sessions we had on Aug. 11 and Aug. 19. Attorneys Santini and Aguirre acted in an ‘ultra vires’ manner, in other words, without legal authority to sustain such action,” she in her document, referring to how Aguirre signed the document nearly two weeks after his tenure was over.
She further blasted the other two board members for leading the agency’s staff into error.
“There is no franchise license granted. It is illegal,” Torres told News is my Business, breaking her public silence for the first time in months.
Key problem: Untimely network construction
Among other things, Torres said the order that was signed and made public earlier this week confirmed that PRT has been building its IPTV network since March 2007, reaffirming statements by competitors OneLink and Choice Cable that the carrier had been working on its infrastructure prior to obtaining its license.
That is against Law 213, prompting them to file complaints at the agency and, in Onelink’s case, in court.
However, this issue should have been kept out of the decision, as it is being dealt with in a separate proceeding, Torres said.
“When a license is issued, it must be based on three criteria, that the company is in good standing, that it is financially solvent and that the decision is in the public interest. By including the IPTV network construction issue, it automatically goes against the good standing condition,” Torres said.
Competitor OneLink Communications issued a statement praising the board for uncovering a “pattern of illegalities by PRT, including building a network without required permits, crossed subsidies and false sworn statements.”
The document presents questions about these actions and corporate policies, which must be corrected and resubmitted before they can begin to operate this service, said Jorge Hernández, vice president of OneLink.
The internal tug-of-war at the board leaves the door open for PRT to ask for reconsideration at the TRB, or take its appeal straight to court, she said.
“In any case, Puerto Rico and the consumers are left without the IPTV alternative. I’ve suffered over this because the image of this institution [the TRB] and the regulator is at stake,” Torres said.
PRT representatives said Friday they will not be commenting on the matter until next week.