Poli­cies needed to ex­tend con­sumer pro­tec­tion and tax col­lec­tion to the dig­i­tal econ­omy

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BUSINESS -

With many more coun­tries around the world get­ting on board with ef­forts to en­sure that on­line giants like Face­book, Google and What­sApp obey the law and pay their fair share of taxes, Digicel is once again urg­ing gov­ern­ments in the re­gion to do the same. This time the call comes with greater need for pol­i­cy­mak­ers to pro­tect con­sumers, as well as rev­enues for gov­ern­ments, while en­sur­ing a level play­ing field for tele­coms op­er­a­tors that have con­tin­u­ously in­vested bil­lions in build­ing a world­class net­work in­fra­struc­ture through­out the Caribbean.

Speak­ing at a Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Fo­rum hosted by the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (IIC) re­cently, David Geary, Gen­eral Coun­sel for the Caribbean at Digicel Group noted, “The on­line play­ers have ar­gued that the in­ter­net pro­vides them with a ‘cloak of reg­u­la­tory in­vis­i­bil­ity' and that the law of the land does not ap­ply to them be­cause they are on the in­ter­net. What we are wit­ness­ing is a world­wide re­al­i­sa­tion among pol­i­cy­mak­ers that law and reg­u­la­tion must ap­ply to the on­line world.”

In his pre­sen­ta­tion to a group of in­dus­try ex­perts, Geary ob­served that un­reg­u­lated on­line play­ers pose a num­ber of chal­lenges for the lo­cal economies in which they op­er­ate. He also noted that on­line play­ers have not only been eat­ing away at rev­enues for the gov­ern­ment through avoid­ance of taxes and fees for in­sti­tu­tions like the Univer­sal Ser­vice Fund, but also have helped to fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween crim­i­nals by fail­ing to as­sist the po­lice with track­ing calls and mes­sages sent on­line.

“We now see coun­tries like Ger­many, Ire­land and the UK propos­ing reg­u­la­tion in a bid to pre­vent the trans­mis­sion of harm­ful con­tent in­clud­ing hate speech and sup­port for ter­ror­ist causes. Th­ese is­sues are also rel­e­vant in the Caribbean, so we need to get on board too with the right poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion and do ev­ery­thing we can to pro­tect our cit­i­zens and the economies of the Caribbean,” said Geary.

He con­tin­ued, “The on­line play­ers are a grow­ing part of the economies where they de­liver ser­vices, and when it comes to con­tribut­ing to th­ese economies, they must abide by the same rules as every­one else. Sim­ply be­cause you pro­vide a ser­vice on­line shouldn't mean that you can avoid con­tribut­ing to the coun­try where you are earn­ing your rev­enue. Col­lec­tion of taxes is very im­por­tant to coun­tries in the de­vel­op­ing world, as th­ese rules are de­signed to pro­tect con­sumers and to pre­vent abuse."

The 2017 IIC Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Fo­rum, which was hosted in Miami in May, fo­cused on dis­cus­sions around OTT ser­vices and con­tent, with a de­bate around reg­u­la­tory frame­works, fis­cal ar­range­ments and con­sumer pro­tec­tion.

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