By Randy Howard
POLICIES have been agreed on, legislation has been passed, however, liberalization of the telecommunications market has not progressed in the way that it should.
As a result, one local commentator is calling on Government, specifically the Barbados Fair Trading Commission (FTC), to take steps towards enforcing the legislation that has been passed, and to ensure that the level of liberalization sought is brought to fruition.
Chris Halsall, Director of independent consulting firm, Ideas 4 Lease, made the point that the local Telecommunications Act Review Committee, on which he sits, has done some excellent work in the last year regarding the push towards liberalisation, including the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Policy, and then more recently the Two Stage Dialing Policy, and the Indirect Access and Equal Access Policy. All of these can be downloaded from the www.telecoms.gov.bb web site.
He stated that Government had set a January 1st 2008 for the implementation of Two Stage Dialing, and October 1st 2008 for Indirect and Equal Access. However, the competitive long distance providers – Sunbeach, Blue Communications, and TeleBarabdos – have been trying to purchase the required interconnecting circuits from the Cable & Wireless without success, even through they are clearly defined within the Policy.
Cable & Wireless has apparently been refusing to quote for or deliver these circuits, and have not been able to come to an agreement with the above mentioned providers on the implementation of the policy. As a result, the requesting providers may have to appeal to the FTC for a decision.
Halsall argued therefore, that it is imperative that the Commission deals with this issue quickly, and make a ruling so that the process of liberalization in this area can continue.
“TeleBarbados, Sunbeach, Blue Communications have all invested serious coin, so the competitive commercial entities are ready to play. In fact, they could offer services today if they could purchase the required circuits. It all comes back to the legislation and the regulation.”
Another issue raised by Halsall, was that regarding the “Reference Interconnection Offers”, also known as “the RIOs”. “This is a standard offer for services which C&W must make available to any requesting competitive telephony carrier. This is a public document – anyone can request a copy from the FTC. It is, however, only available in paper form.”
He explained that these offers define the “physical join”, which are the actual “circuits” which carry calls, and the services that “sit on top of them.” The RIOs were created by C&W and submitted for approval by the FTC for each of the three phases of liberalization, which is why there are three different versions.
“An agreement and services based on the RIOs is required for a competitor to access C&W’s portion of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Various different services are defined – for example, ‘Incoming International Call Termination to PSTN Service’ and ‘PSTN Transit Service’.”
The problem that Halsall identified however, is the fact that the offers presented do not possess a definition for any form of outgoing international call termination. The approved offers have a definition of incoming international call termination, but not outgoing. “When the question is asked why this is so, the answer given is that such service was ‘never envisioned’.”
“How, I ask, could outgoing calls not be envisioned? Is it truly the intention to continue to give Cable & Wireless a monopoly on all international calls from Barbados?” The issue with this “is that right now it is illegal for any of the competitive carriers to offer international calling to the Barbados public, other than their own customers on their own network. They are only able to bring international traffic in and terminate it on the Cable & Wireless network.”
Essentially, this therefore allows Cable & Wireless to maintain their hold on the market for international calls, thus preventing true liberalization of this service. “This is why prices are so high here – because there is no competition, C&W can effectively charge what they like.”
“It is public knowledge that it costs less than two cents Barbados a minute to terminate a call into the North American PSTN. So a telephone company has this expense, plus the expense of actually getting the call to North America over a submarine cable or satellite link. Let’s say this is another two cents a minute. Just do a bit of math with the current rates, and you can see how C&W is making so much money in international calls.”
The issue of the RIOs is particularly prohibitive, he argued, for the implementation of Indirect Access and Equal Access, and to a lesser degree Two Stage Dialing. “It is also missing some basic other services. This is why, for example, Digicel and TeleBarbados customers cannot dial Barbados 1-800 numbers.”
He made the point that this falls under the purview of the FTC, but no review of this issue has taken place as yet, and Halsall indicated that one does not appear to be sight currently. “I personally have asked for a review to be conducted. It has been acknowledged that one is necessary for the implementation of the Indirect Access and Equal Access Policy. I hope this will be undertaken soon – time is of the essence.”
He stated that he worries that Barbadians are too distracted by cellular, and to a lesser extent ADSL services, that not enough attention is paid to the other issues regarding telecommunications, whether it relates to availability, or quality. “Don’t get me wrong – I personally can’t live without my Blackberry – but there is still a great deal of work to be done before we will truly have a liberalized marketplace.”
Halsall is therefore keen to see how the new Government will take up the issue of liberalization, stating that he looks “forward to the new Government taking seriously the issue of liberalization, and continue the work that was being done, particularly that by the Telecommunications Act Review Committee.”
Published in the Barbados Advocate Business Monday, 2008.02.18. Reprinted with permission.