Regulatory Authority acts to protect consumers
Bermuda's telecoms and energy watchdog has taken swift action to protect consumers and small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Regulatory Authority has issued the Regulatory Authority (Covid-19) Emergency General Determination 2020, which became operative yesterday upon its publication in the Official Gazette.
The RA said it has “provided strong direction to providers of electronic communications and electricity services, to take the appropriate actions to ensure there is no loss of service as a result of Covid-19”.
The RA added that the emergency determination, with feedback from sectoral providers, will enforce the following prohibitions:
• Making any changes to tariffs without prior written approval from the RA, including increasing tariffs to consumers and small businesses during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.
• The disconnection or discontinuance of services for non-payment by a “relevant person”, which the RA defines as a consumer or small business that demonstrates a recent loss of employment or significant income due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
• Charging of penalties or other fees for non-payment to “relevant persons”. The RA said this does not apply to penalties for breach of handset or other device contracts associated with switching service providers.
The RA's move comes after telecoms groups, including Digicel, One Communications and World on Wireless, as well as electricity provider Belco, have publicly stated they will not disconnect customers who struggle to pay their bills amid the economic disruption of the Covid-19 crisis.
Under the RA's emergency determination “relevant persons” will have to demonstrate that their loss of employment or significant income has affected their ability to pay for services due to the pandemic without offsetting (full or partial) government, or other agency, support.
“Small business”, under the emergency determination, means a Bermudian-owned and Bermudian owner-operated business enterprise with either a maximum of ten full-time employees; or gross annual sales of less than $1 million; or an annual payroll of less than $500,000, as evidenced by the most recent quarterly payroll tax filing.
The RA strongly encouraged “relevant persons” to monitor their data usage patterns, as monthly usage and charges for over-usage will still be applicable once the Covid-19 pandemic period is over, it said.
William Francis, chairman of the RA, said: “As one of the principal functions of the RA is to promote the development of the local economy and protect consumers, we are naturally concerned about the potential detrimental effects of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the consumers and small businesses of Bermuda.
“We consider the prevention of widespread loss of electronic communications and electricity services to be urgent and in the public interest. We are pleased that sectoral providers have followed the direction as indicated by the RA.”
As a result of Covid-19, the RA said it has also extended the timetable for public feedback on the Principles of Consumer Protection until April 13.
For more information about the Emergency General Determination and the Principles of Consumer Protection, visit www.ra.bm