Fed-up telecoms firms tell Govt to reveal position on Digicel service
By Marina Mello
Telecoms providers banded together yesterday to demand Government break its wall of silence over Digicels long-distance service.
Bosses from TBI, North Rock, Logic and CellOne said that what Digicel appeared to have been told by Government that it can do, they were told they cant do, which is offering long distance to mobile customers.
As a result they said they have been left at a competitive disadvantage.
Late yesterday Government issued a brief statement on the ruling, but still did not state what its position was: The Ministry has studied the judgement of Justice Kawaley with its counsel and notes the invitation by the Court to be heard. We intend to present our position before the Court at the earliest opportunity.
At yesterdays news conference Vicki Coelho, general manager of Internet service provider North Rock Communications, said the company was shocked that the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy had to date failed to reconfirm the licensing structure for Digicel and Transact.
If the Government fails to act it will make a mockery of the regulatory process in which the industry has participated, she said. Given that the Government policy and carriers licences have not changed, we request that Minister Roban take appropriate action to bring order to our industry. Government needs to make clear that Transact cannot provide long distance services to CellOne customers.
Logic Communications CEO Sheila Lines was also at the press conference, as well as the heads of TeleBermuda International and CellOne.
Ms Lines said the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday said ISPs can connect with cell companies to provide long distance, however: This ruling is in contrast to the Ministrys previous statements barring other internet service companies from doing exactly that in advance of regulatory reform.
Ms Lines said: We have repeatedly asked the Ministry for clarification and to date have received no indication that the rules had changed.
Instead we have in writing letters from the Ministry forbidding the practice of Class C holders, such as Transact, Logic and North Rock, providing long distance services to cellular company customers. Our customers have been denied the benefit of the coupling if the services that Digicel/Transact are now offering. Clearly a regulator should act to ensure regulation is enforced and the playing field is level.
TBI president Greg Swan said he has asked the Ministry to confirm the scope and conditions of service outlined in the Digicel and Transact licences.
He added: Following the court hearing (Tuesday), Digicel finally disclosed that, contrary to what has been stated on its web site, it is in fact Transact that is offering long distance service. We believe that neither Digicel nor Transact are licenced to offer a long distance service and it is in contravention of both their various licences for either or both of them to do so.
CellOne said it too is looking to the DOT to clarify its position regarding this significant change to the regulatory landscape imposed by the court yesterday.–CEO Frank Amaral said: We continue to welcome regulatory reform that will open the telecommunications sector and expand consumer choice.
He added: CellOne has an excellent track record within the industry of cooperating on all inter-carrier requests.
Telecoms comes under the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy, whose Minister is Walter Roban. Dr Derrick Binns is the permanent secretary, Hiram Edwards is listed as assistant director and Maxanne Anderson is listed as rotational acting director and senior legal counsel.
Late Tuesday night, the Government made this statement: The Government stands behind its previously stated position that there has been no change to the policy of not issuing any new telecommunications licences or changing the conditions of licences until telecommunications reform has been implemented.
The Ministry added: It should be noted that the Government has been working fairly with all providers without showing favour or privilege to any individual carrier.
Digicel on Tuesday night claimed overall victory in yesterdays proceedings, declaring the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Digicel in response to allegations that Digicel is illegally offering long-distance services. Digicel was totally successful in defending the right of Transact to offer a long-distance telephone service to customers in Bermuda in competition with TBI and LinkBermuda. The judge (Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley) accepted that Digicel was entitled to market this service under the Digicel brand name.
Digicel added: Specifically regarding TBIs injunction against Digicel which would have prevented Digicel from carrying long-distance traffic to Digicel Bermuda customers this injunction has failed. Indeed, it is Digicels view that the application was wholly misconceived and constituted an abuse of process.
However, TBI said it still intends to pursue its legal action against Digicel at a hearing Mr Kawaley set for next week.
Digicel and Transact also on Tuesday had applied for an injunction compelling CellOne to provide its customers with interconnection to the Digicel network so they could subscribe to the new Digicel/Transact long-distance service.
This application was successful and seven days from today CellOne must start the process of interconnection unless the relevant Ministers apply to the Court objecting, Digicel said, adding: Digicel believes there is no basis for any objection from Government because it has done nothing wrong.
In his ruling Puisne Judge Ian Kawaley essentially put the ball in the Governments court, urging specifically the Minister of Tourism and International Business Patrice Minors and/or the Environment Minister Walter Roban, to speak up within a week if they dont think what Digicel is doing is within its licence.
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