My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Telecom Providers await OUR’s Judgement on VoIP Bypass – Viber is on the rebound but USF Revenue for GOJ means they’ll win

Friday, July 25, 2014

Telecom Providers await OUR’s Judgement on VoIP Bypass – Viber is on the rebound but USF Revenue for GOJ means they’ll win

“The OUR has requested additional information from telecommunications providers LIME and Digicel on their decision to block certain providers of Voice over Internet Protocol services on their network requested information. Among the information requested from the two companies are data showing the nature of the alleged bypass of their networks by VoIP providers and its impac. The OUR expects to receive the information before the end of the month”

Release from the OUR with regards to their investigations into allegations of bypass by VoIP Providers such as Viber and Nimbuzz by Digicel and LIME

The OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) has decided to consult with industry players, with the CAC (Consumer Affairs Commission) being drawn into the discussion to comment on the nature of the alledged bypass as stated in “OUR seeks clarification on VoIP block”, published Wednesday July 23, 2014, by Richard Browne, Business Reporter, The Jamaica Gleaner.

In the meantime, OUR has allowed the Telecom Providers to continue their blockade of VoIP Apps such as Viber and Nimbuzz until the end of the month of July 2014 as I’d reported in my blog article entitled “LIME and Digicel blocking all VoIP Services - How Telecom Providers can make money from Regularizing Paid VoIP Services”. It’s hoped by that time, they’ll hand down a judgement on the VoIP issue.

Telecom Provider Digicel is adamant that the VoIP Providers must pay a Toll Access Charge in order to terminate Calls on their Network, just like any other Telecom Provider, to quote Digicel's Head of Legal and Legulatory Affairs, Gail Moss-Solomon: “Digicel Jamaica continues to block unlicensed number-based VoIP operators until a mutually beneficial commercial relationship can be agreed”

Digicel lifts VoIP Blockade – TATT spoke early and Haiti’s Telecom Tax is corrupt

Telecom Provider Digicel has already lifted the blockade on VoIP Apps such as Viber and Nimbuzz in Trinidad and Tobago As stated in “TATT asks Digicel to hold hand on VoIP”, published July 8, 2014 at 9:35 PM ECT By Joel Julien, The Trinidad Express and “Trinidad regulator weighs in on VoIP issue”, Published Thursday July 10, 2014, The Jamaica Gleaner.

This after Trinidad and Tobago established Telecoms Regulator, TATT (Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago) began dialog from early and had the blockade removed a week and four days after it came into effect on Sunday June 29th, 2014.

Telecom Provider Digicel has also removed the blockade in Haiti as of Tuesday July 16th 2014, possibly over concerns relating to the illegal nature of the Telecom Tax imposed by the Haitian Government led by Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe as chronicled in my blog article entitled “Digicel Haiti removes VoIP Apps Blockade – How Laurent Lamothe Administrations Corrupt Telecom Tax for FNE has French Connection”.

Telecom Provider Digicel decided that the losses from VoIP in Haiti, still a growing and now their larges Telecom market aside from Jamaica, was not worth their reputation being mired in corruption over the collection of an illegally implemented Telecom Tax.

Digicel, LIME and VoIP – LIME’s awfully quiet as Business good with Fixed Line and Broadband

Many may notice Telecom Provider LIME’s quiet in all of this.

That’s mainly because Mobile isn’t a money-maker for them as it is for Telecom Provider Digicel; their real revenues come from their Fixed Line and Broadband Services such as ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) and Frame Relay Services for Corporate and Business Customers as laid out in my blog article entitled “CWC Report ending March 2014 indicates LIME Jamaica's improving Bottom Line - Project Marlin heralds Solar Powered Telecom Provider to Reduce Operating Costs”.

Mobile is mostly Prepaid customers and barely makes 10% of overall revenue. VoIP is an issue, especially as it relates to the Telecom Tax and the Cess that’s paid over to the USF (Universal Service Fund). So too is bypass….. just not so big to warrant this much media attention as far as Telecom Provider LIME is concerned based on the nonchalant response of Communications Manager at LIME, Elon Parkinson, quote: “We continue to review all VoIP apps on our network”.

The main reason why they’re co-operating with Telecom Provider Digicel is to prevent a united front in response to Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell’s insistence that Telecom Providers take action against bypass or face the consequences as distilled in my blog article entitled “How US$1 Billion is lost from the USF and Telecoms Tax via Inbound International Calling Bypass  - LIME, Digicel and Network Engineer French Connection”.

Viber is on the rebound – Telecom Providers await the OUR’s Judgement

As for Viber, they’ve become the latest cause celeb, with the popularity of Viber soaring. If you never knew that they offered free calling, you DEFINITELY known now. They’ve also rolled out updates that many have been urged to download from the Apple iTunes Store and the Google Play Store to circumvent Telecom Provider Digicel and Telecom Provider LIME’s blockade.

Their latest message to their user base in the Caribbean is taunting, quote: “We're pleased to hear that you are able to use Viber again to communicate freely. Create a group and spread the news among your friends”

It seems to be working, as many report being able to continue using Viber after updating their Viber App as stated in the article “Viber reports uptick in traffic amid VoIP blockade - Telecoms effort described as bad for business, education services”, Published Friday July 11, 2014, published Richard Browne, Business Reporter, The Jamaica Gleaner.

So was it worth it? Read on and you’ll see why it is…..and hence the reason why the Telecom Providers took action, as the outcome is quite clear cut.

Telecom Providers await OUR’s Judgement – USF Revenue for GOJ means they’ll win

So was it worth it? In a word yes, as the Telecom Providers, being FDI (Foreign Direct Investors) and thus signatories to BTA (Bilateral Trade Agreements), are bound to the Government of Jamaica to seek binding legal arbitration through a neutral agreed party acting as Mediator whenever disputes arise.

To this end, the OUR, though not the appointed Telecom Regulator, is acting in this stead, as it an issue that involves consumers and a service that’s part of their regulatory ambit. The Telecom Providers, in agreeing to binding arbitration with the OUR acting as mediator, thus have thirty days (30) to cease and desist any action after the Mediator in the dispute between the Telecom Providers and the CAC, as this is really a consumer affair.

Truth be told, the GOJ is very interested in the Telecom Providers being allowed to block the VoIP operators, especially as they’re getting revenue from the Telecom Providers that’s helping to balance their Budget. It’s also funding the USF and the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining’s ambitious E-Learning II Tablet Program, which is perfectly legal by the way as pointed out in my blog article entitled Ministry of Science and Technology signs four Contractors in March 2014 to procure Tablets - Test Pilot Project in September 2014 means Teachers can monetize e-books”.

With both Telecom Providers building out their respective 4G LTE Networks, it’s reasonable to expect too, that they’d wish to shore up their revenue base as they expend additional capital on their Network expansion. It may violate the purest principles of Network Neutrality, but the truth be told, these VoIP are breaking the law; they shouldn’t be rewarded for their “illegal” and “parasitic” activity, even if only one Telecom Provider really has a problem due to their revenue Stream being dependent on Voice Calling!

Given that their demands are within the Telecommunications Act of 2012 and request that VoIP Providers be registered to operate in Jamaica, sign contractual arrangements and pay Toll Access Charge in order to terminate Calls on their Network as pointed out in my Geezam blog article entitled “How Network Neutrality and International Calling can thrive as TATT mediates VoIP Blockade by Digicel and LIME”, the  OUR is most likely to rule in the Telecom Providers Favour.
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