Dig­i­cel knocks Caribbean ap­proach to net neu­tral­ity

Jamaica Gleaner - - SOMETHING EXTRA - Jo­van John­son Staff Re­porter jo­van.john­son@glean­erjm.com

ONE OF the re­gion’s largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions play­ers, Dig­i­cel, is knock­ing Caribbean gov­ern­ments for using what it says is a leg­isla­tive-driven ap­proach to af­firm com­mit­ments to net neu­tral­ity rather than using thor­ough re­search­driven pol­icy.

Net neu­tral­ity is the prin­ci­ple of equal ac­cess to In­ter­net con­tent on ca­pa­ble de­vices, which in­creas­ingly, has been land­ing ser­vice providers in trou­ble with reg­u­la­tors for block­ing or want­ing to im­pose charges for over-the-top con­tent such as What­sApp calls or text mes­sages.

Ac­cord­ing to Kieran Meskell, Dig­i­cel head of reg­u­la­tory af­fairs, the ap­proach to re­solv­ing the is­sue is not sim­i­lar to how Europe and the United States have done it.

“What we’ve had in the Caribbean is de­bate about the word­ing of the draft leg­is­la­tion. It’s a lit­tle bit of cart be­fore the horse,” he told The Gleaner.

“It isn’t pol­icy-driven leg­is­la­tion. How do you test whether or not the leg­is­la­tion or reg­u­la­tion is fit for pur­pose? Ac­tu­ally you say, ‘This is what I’m try­ing to achieve by pol­icy’. We feel that there hasn’t been, with all of the stake­hold­ers, a fo­cus on the pol­icy.”

Meskell said Dig­i­cel is in­ter­ested in hav­ing the pol­icy dis­cus­sion and is look­ing for­ward to the pro­posed stake­holder group un­der the Caribbean Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Union.

The con­cerns of the tele­coms of­fi­cial fol­lowed a pre­sen­ta­tion by Em­bert Charles, the man­ag­ing direc­tor of the East­ern Caribbean Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity (ECTEL), dur­ing yes­ter­day’s sec­ond day of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Caribbean Util­ity Reg­u­la­tors con­fer­ence in St James.

CARIBBEAN AP­PROACH

Ac­cord­ing to Charles, the re­sponses through­out the re­gion to net neu­tral­ity and reg­u­la­tion have been var­ied. Guyana, he said, for ex­am­ple has passed laws af­firm­ing net neu­tral­ity while other coun­tries such as Ja­maica have is­sued min­is­te­rial state­ments sup­port­ing the con­cept.

“There has to be a Caribbean ap­proach to sup­port these prin­ci­ples to ar­rive at some bal­ance. ECTEL plans to do a num­ber of things. Our new leg­is­la­tion ac­tu­ally mir­rors what Guyana’s leg­is­la­tion has done. There will be rules for com­pe­ti­tion. There will be rules for qual­ity of ser­vice in so far as the over-the-top ser­vices (are con­cerned),” he said in his pre­sen­ta­tion on net neu­tral­ity pol­icy op­tions and sec­tor re­sponses.

Charles also em­pha­sised that the Caribbean As­so­ci­a­tion of Na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tions’ (CANTO) vol­un­tary code of con­duct in­cludes a dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nism. But the de­bate in the re­gion has thrown up the need for some form of reg­u­la­tion and the re­gion needs to de­ter­mine, using the code, whether self-reg­u­la­tion or coreg­u­la­tion to in­volve ser­vice providers is the way to go.

Among other things, the CANTO codes in­clude the safe­guard­ing of le­gal In­ter­net con­tent and the re­quire­ment that providers com­mu­ni­cate re­stric­tions on ser­vices to con­sumers along with pro­vi­sions for dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms.

WHO COV­ERS THE COST

Ac­cord­ing to Meskell, the ques­tion about who cov­ers the cost for pro­vid­ing all ser­vices has to be an­swered in the ap­pli­ca­tion of any reg­u­la­tion.

“It may be that within a port­fo­lio of ser­vices, how we re­cover our net­work in­vest­ments, it may be that some ser­vices are zero rated. But they have a cost in the net­work, (so) where do you re­cover that cost? There is a nar­row view that there is one price for every dish, ir­re­spec­tive of whether or not there is a dif­fer­ent value to every dish. Does hav­ing that sort of sim­plis­tic flat-earth ap­proach – all bits are equal – help you achieve your pol­icy ob­jec­tives of get­ting peo­ple both con­nected and en­gaged?”

For his part, the ECTEL man­ag­ing direc­tor has pro­posed full public con­sul­ta­tions as a means of try­ing to bal­ance the in­ter­ests of the public with the in­vestors.

Ja­maica’s tech­nol­ogy minister, Dr An­drew Wheat­ley, who pre­sented yes­ter­day, did not pro­vide an up­date on Ja­maica’s draft ICT leg­is­la­tion, which some play­ers be­lieve will not be as tough in en­forc­ing net neu­tral­ity.

“It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of every coun­try in this re­gion to de­ter­mine how to ap­ply the at­ten­dant rules of net neu­tral­ity,” he said.

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