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Plans for new $3.5m regulatory body for telecoms drawn up

Legislation to set up a $3.5 million Regulatory Authority over the telecoms sector will be tabled in Parliament this week.

The Regulatory Authority and Electronic Communications Bills were expected to be introduced in last week’s session, but a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure said it’s been decided to table the legislation this Friday.

The long-awaited new regulatory regime will overhaul the telecoms sector and finally permit bundling of services.

According to copies of the 2011 draft legislation posted on the Ministrys website, the authorised capital of the self-funding Authority will be $3.5 million a year.

Industry leaders had in the past expressed alarm about the potential tax burden on them arising from the new Authority, which was said to be expected to cost up to $9 million a year, and be funded by fees levied on their companies.

In the 2010 draft reform it was proposed that the Authority would charge fees to cover administration costs of up to three percent of licensed carriers’ revenues.

The 2011 draft reform said the new Authority once set up will recommend the amount of both “service and general regulatory fees” payable by the providers.

The draft legislation further said the Authority will have a non-voting CEO and three voting commissioners.

Its principal functions will include:

l To promote and preserve competition

l To promote the interests of the residents and consumers of Bermuda

l To promote the development of the Bermudian economy, Bermudian employment and Bermudian ownership

l To promote innovation

l To fulfill any additional functions specified by sectoral legislation

And its powers will include, among others:

l Collect, retain and expend funds

l Appoint, promote, remove discipline staff

l Provide advice

l Establish external advisory panels and take appropriate actions to foster industry self-regulation and co-regulation

l Establish and maintain an official website

l Grant, modify and revoke authorisations

l Review, approve or reject tariffs filed

l Establish and enforce quality of service

l Adopt remedies to deter anti-competitive conduct by providers

l Prohibit unfair trade practices

l Take appropriate enforcement actions, including impose fines

l Resolve disputes

l Modify or find to be void agreements involving one or more sector providers that unreasonably restrict competition in any relevant market.

Former Minister for Environment, Planning and Infrastructure, Walter Roban, who quit Cabinet last Thursday night after 16 days as Public Works Minister over a Planning scandal, played a key role in the drafting of the legislation and meeting with stakeholders.

He told a news conference last month the overhaul would see the introduction of one universal licence, and do away with the current system of separate classes of licences.

Mr Roban said once set up, the Authority will have the role of determining technical issues such as spectrum/frequency allocation, market dominance and local number portability.

He also assured Government had taken into account the telecoms industry’s stated concerns about the potential tax burden of regulatory reform. He said Government would help fund the Authority at least in its first year.

“For the first year of implementation, and mindful of our current economic climate, it is our desire to not place a financial burden on the industry or on the users of telecommunications services,” he said last month. “We will be seeking from the Ministry of Finance an allocation for the Authority’s operating expenses.”

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Published November 21, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 21, 2011 at 9:38 am)

Plans for new $3.5m regulatory body for telecoms drawn up

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