My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: VoIP Talks at 30th Annual Conference of CANTO - How VoIP robs Telecoms as Not All Traffic is Equal as Caribbean VoIP Operators needed

Saturday, August 16, 2014

VoIP Talks at 30th Annual Conference of CANTO - How VoIP robs Telecoms as Not All Traffic is Equal as Caribbean VoIP Operators needed

Telecom Providers and the regional Ministers responsible for Telecommunications in the various Caribbean Territories just can’t see eye-to-eye.

So it appears the divisions between these the Ministers responsible for Telecommunications in the various Caribbean Territories and the Telecom Providers became glaringly obvious during roundtable talks at the 30th Annual Conference of CANTO that began on Monday August 11th 2014 in Nassau, Bahamas as reported in “Region's telecoms providers, ministers fail to agree on VOIP issue”, published Thursday, August 14, 2014, the Jamaica Observer.

According to the Telecom experts the Telecom Providers were losing as much as US$500 million per annum per Caribbean Country. Since each Caribbean Territory most likely has a Telecom Tax in place, that translates to US$150 million per annum per Caribbean Country in lost Taxes.

Here in Jamaica, I'm putting that estimate at around US$1 billion, as that estimate by Telecom Provider Digicel doesn’t account for the losses due to persons using femtocells illegally terminating calls from the US of A as if they were in Jamaica as noted 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”.

Government vs Telecom Providers – VoIP robs Telecoms but Minister concerned about winning elections

Digicel Group Board Director, Patrick James Mara pointed out what that amount of lost revenue could do for many of these Caribbean Territories in terms of Taxes, quote: “You build a lot of schools, hospitals, health services and provide all kinds of social services for your communities for $150 million. These operators are making no contribution to your communities, to your Government, to your tax requirements in your communities. The problem not just for Caricom (Caribbean Community) countries, it is a problem for a problem across the world”.

Strangely enough, despite the losses quoted, Ministers responsible for Telecommunications are siding with their own people, possibly because Elections every five years puts whoever is in power to the sword due to their inability to talk to relatives abroad to get their remittance money according to St Lucia's Science and Technology, Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr James Fletcher, quote:  “That (cheap/free frequent calls) is what they are used to. So, to tell them that they cannot use Skype, they cannot use Vonage, they cannot use MagicJack and not provide them with an alternative is really asking a Government, which is made up of politicians, who every five years have to face an electorate for re- election, to commit suicide. It does not make any sense”.

Strange to see the Telecom Ministers argue about winning elections when in Haiti, Telecom Taxes being collected by the Haitian Government, led by Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe are possibly being siphoned off just for that purpose as noted in my blog article entitled “Digicel Haiti removes VoIP Apps Blockade – How Laurent Lamothe Administrations Corrupt Telecom Tax for FNE has French Connection”.

In the case of Haiti, Telecom Provider Digicel had decided to stop collecting the Telecom Tax for the Haitian Government and allow the VoIP Operators to work as the US$8.5 million collected over a period of three (3) years appears to not be going to the FNE (National Fund for Education), it's intended recipient but appears to be funding the Presidential bid of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

The Telecoms Tax was instituted illegally without legislation being drafted in their Parliament and worse, isn't being collected by the Central Bank but by CONATEL, the Haitian Government's Regulatory Commission for Telecommunications.

Governments argue Network Neutrality – All Traffic is Data but not All Traffic isn’t equal

One of the main pillars of the arguments posted by the Ministers responsible for Telecommunications is this idea of Network Neutrality. This concept basically treats all Traffic on a Telecom Network as being equal, with no discrimination against any Traffic no matter its source. So says Dominica's telecommunications minister Ambrose George was apparently of this view, which he expressed during the Round Table Talks, quote: “Internet Traffic is simply data, whether it is telephony, e-fax, text, audio, etc. Hence, there should not be any form of discrimination of data based on its origin or type or nature”.

But albeit this is a nice concept in Principle, it does have a flaw. If all Traffic is treated as equal and in a non-discriminatory manner, that means an illegal provider of a Service that's normally metered and for which there is a charge can use a Telecom Providers Data Service to do everything from run a legitimate registered business to even commit Crimes over the Internet.

My personal view is that these activities are illegal as they are against the Telecoms Regulations of these countries as it relates to Bypass, which is circumventing Switched Networks to terminate International phone calls. Thus this principle of Network Neutrality is flawed; all Traffic is equal but the legal Traffic is more equal than the others.

Telecoms Providers vs VoIP – Economic and Legal imperative to Report and Block VoIP as they are bypass

Thus as their access is illegal, it cannot be the case that Network Neutrality rules apply, as the Government of these Caribbean Territories are in effect condoning illegal activity that's clearly again their Telecoms act and possibly breaking the law as argued in my Geezam blog article entitled “How Network Neutrality and International Calling can thrive as TATT mediates VoIP Blockade by Digicel and LIME”.

The only beneficiaries are the VoIP operators and the VC (Venture Capitalists that fund them. Digicel Group Board Director, Patrick James Mara voiced this opinion, quote:  “These are parasite -- these operators. They are not genuine operators like Twitter or Facebook, who have invested significant funds. These people are thieves. There isn't any milder way to put it. ...These people make no contribution to your societies and it has to stop. So, I am asking you now regulators to address this issue with the various operators”.

Quite true as these VoIP operators such as Skype and Nimbuzz have no formal business contracts with Telecom Provider Digicel. They usually make money from Paid VoIP Subscriptions, advertising and even stickers as is the case with Japanese VoIP operator Line as explained in my blog article entitled “Japanese Line introduces Line Call for Landline and Mobile - US$0.02 per Call and Kawaii Stickers a plus as WhatsApp and Skype get company in making International Calling and Roaming Extinct”.

Despite collecting revenue, they do not pay any Termination Tariffs for each of the calls that flow over their Networks through Telecom Providers 3G and 4G Mobile Networks, with the bulk of their profits flowing back to their VoIP Operators and the VC’s that fund them.

Worse, the Telecom Provider become accomplices to this fact and may indeed be helping criminals, such as Scammers, to break the law as pointed out in my blog article entitled “How Scammers and Hackers are on the Rebound Laundering Money - Minister of National Security Peter Bunting misguided on Scammers”.

Thus aside from the economic imperative of making profit from International Calling so that they can pay the Government of these Caribbean Territories their Telecoms Tax, the Telecom Provider have a legal imperative to act. This as by NOT acting, they're complicit in an illegally activity and not reporting it, despite the Telecoms Regulation that governs their operation clearly stating that it is so!

Hence their blockade is legal!

Solution to VoIP – Pay up or the Caribbean VoIP Operators needed to fill that Gap

The solution is obviously clear as the title above and as argued in my blog article entitled “LIME and Digicel blocking all VoIP Services - How Telecom Providers can make money from Regularizing Paid VoIP Services”.

VoIP operators need to formalize their relationships with the Caribbean Government and have contractual arrangements with the Telecom Providers in the Caribbean to quote Digicel Executive and CANTO director Julian Wilkins: “From Digicel's position, where Telecom Providers are competing in the same market, we would like the same rules and legislation must be applied on order to keep a level playing field”.

Otherwise the Telecom Providers have the law on their side and can continue to block them until the Telecom Regulators such as the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) in Jamaica, for example, say otherwise.

A solution to the impasse in Jamaica does exist and may be the most innovative yet, albeit the Telecom Providers may not like it, as it means competition. The Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining can give VC (Venture Capital) funding for Jamaican Developers to create their OWN VoIP Platforms powered by Digicel Cloud Services or even Columbus Communications Cloud Platform.

This idea was argued by St Lucia's Science and Technology, Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr James Fletcher, quote: “Unfortunately, VOIP has done the same thing for the Service providers. There is a demand there that is not being met. And, like my colleague from Jamaica, I would be a lot happier if it were a Caribbean VOIP solution. But the solution cannot be to get rid of VOIP, because there is a very significant demand that these people are providing”.

In so doing, such local VoIP operators would not only have to be regulated, but would also make revenue from Jamaicans having a choice between free and Paid VoIP Service, with the Free Service being paid for by users opting in to having advertising in their App as well as receiving Voice Note Ads and buying stickers.

They in effect, would not only be making money from offering the same Free VoIP and Video Calling services offered by Viber and Nimbuzz, but like those foreign VoIP Platforms, they’d also be making money from Paid Professional VoIP Services.

Effectively their Local VoIP Apps, if they become popular enough, would be providing something close to a Corporate and Enterprise grade Service as I’d challenged in my blog article entitled “How BYOD trend in Jamaica will require Local Jamaican Developers to develope Enterprise and Corporate Apps”.

This solution would make VoIP free to Jamaicans while generating termination Tariffs when they interconnect through Telecom Provider Digicel or Telecom Provider LIME. Thus the Telecom Provider, via these local VoIP who’d effectively be MVNO’s (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), would help them to continue to generate revenues from International Calling in a manner similar to the arrangement they had with Megafone back in 2007.

Local VoIP Services Providers anyone? After all, we have Video Game makers and App makers of all types, but no local or even Caribbean VoIP Solutions. This is a problem begging to be solved locally.

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