KINGSTON, Jamaica, May 2, CMC – The Jamaica parliament has approved several amendments to the Telecommunications Act that government said would result in “a massive decline” in local and international rates to consumers. It now goes to the Senate for debate.
In an immediate reaction, telecommunications provider, LIME, said “the introduction of this amended legislation is good news for consumers and will start to bring the country closer in line with other markets globally.
“We have taken a step towards a levelling of the playing field and as soon as the regulators take the appropriate steps under the new law, providers will better be able to compete on real market issues such as price, innovation and customer service. Consequently, consumers will benefit from increased value, better products and improved service,” Lime managing director for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Garry Sinclair, said in a statement.
LIME chairman Chris Dehring said “the changes to the legislation are in the best interest of the nation, consumers and other stakeholders and we at LIME look forward to vigorous competition where all the players can contend from an equal position”.
But the other provider, Digicel, said while it is unable to comment on the legislation, it has noted with grave concern the overarching powers which the Government is seeking to grant theOffice of Utilities Regulation (OUR).
Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell told legislators that the decision to amend the existing legislation was to address concerns highlighted in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy for Jamaica that was tabled in April last year.
He said other provisions have been included in the amended Act to allow for the optimal functioning of the telecommunications industry.
“We want now to put on track this issue of number portability. It is full time that I should be able, with a number I have for 25 years to take it to another provider and say this is my number and I want service,” Paulwell told legislators.
The amended Telecommunications Act 2000 now addresses the sharing of telecommunications facilities and infrastructure where feasible, allowing the OUR to take into account when determining rates, all relevant factors including cost orientation and local and international benchmarks.
It will also result in the OUR being granted express power to set interim rates for wholesale and retail services where there is a marked difference in rates, but will see those rates being applied without a retroactive effect.
“My view on rates is that you really want to get to a point where even the regulator is not involved, you want a competitive marketplace where the power of the market drives the setting of rates, but we are not there yet, so in the meantime we need a referee to guide that pace.
“ I think to put a minister in that position is invidious, it should be adjudicated by a body with the requisite power to do so. I believe that with the power now being given to the OUR …they will be able to move with greater certainty and alacrity,” Paulwell told legislators.
If amendments to the Telecommunicatiions Act are approved and passed by the Senate, the OUR and the Spectrum Management Authority will be able to impose sanctions for breaches of the act.
Paulwell said the agencies will be empowered to demand certain information from telecoms licensees and that the legislation will now require mobile companies to share cell towers instead of the current practise of each having their own.