The Internet Society successfully hosted an Internet Governance Day as part of Internet Week Guyana, being held in Georgetown from October 9 to 13.Read More
Can telecommunications regulators from across the Caribbean see beyond their national interests and present a unified regional response to a common challenge? The recent announcement by Cable and Wireless (CWC) of its proposed US$3 billion acquisition of Columbus International could prompt them to try. If approved, the deal will make CWC the Caribbean’s largest wholesale and retail broadband service provider. But the acquisition requires regulatory approval in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.
Against this backdrop, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) is convening a special meeting of regulators, economists and industry experts, in an effort to forge region-wide consensus around the regulatory issues arising from the proposed deal. The CTU Secretariat hopes, after the two-day meeting, to be able to advise Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads on measures to be taken to mitigate against the expected fallout from the CWC acquisition.
National regulators, such as the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT), and sub-regional regulators, such as the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL), Jamaica's Office of Utility Regulation, Barbados' Fair Trading Commission and the Bahamas' Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority, have been invited to take part in the high-level meeting, alongside invited representatives from the CTU member states.
Earlier this week, ECTEL issued a statement warning that the proposed CWC-Columbus deal could result in a negative impact on competition, and reduce choice by consumers of both services and service providers.
The sub-regional body said increased monopolisation could “erode the gains made by the liberalisation and create challenges for the entrance of new service providers.”
Both CWC and Columbus could be in breach of their licenses if they engage in activities, which can unfairly prevent, restrict, or distort competition, ECTEL said, adding that it would work with other Caribbean regulators to advise member governments on the pressing issue.
The announcement of CWC-Columbus deal, on November 6, followed a joint venture entered into by both companies in late 2013, through which they agreed to share regional subsea fibre assets. News of the development sparked concerns that the deal could return several Caribbean territories into monopoly or near-monopoly markets for telephony, cable TV and broadband services.
The upcoming CTU regulatory forum, which takes place on December 10 to 11, will also seek to address other relevant issues, such as the removal of voice and data roaming charges, number portability, over-the-top services, open reporting and social investment by telecom providers. The need for stronger, more coordinated regional regulation practices was highlighted in July of this year, after mobile phone users in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were affected by a move by major regional mobile providers LIME (a CWC subsidiary) and Digicel to block access to OTT telephony services—including several popular Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications.
The recent establishment of an Internet exchange point (IXP) in T&T is a necessary step in strengthening the country’s local Internet economy. But it is not enough, says Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist with Packet Clearing House (PCH).
“The launch of the local internet exchange point, TTIX, is definitely a positive step for internet users and in the development of the Trinidad and Tobago internet economy. However, the launch of an IX is not enough to guarantee its success,” Wooding said, speaking with the T&T Guardian after taking part in a panel discussion on IXPs as part of the Internet Society’s (ISOC) INET TT Forum, hosted by the Telecommunications Authority (TATT) on October 8 and 9.
“Now that the task of getting the local IX up and running is over, focus must shift immediately to the development of local applications and content to take advantage of the availability of a local exchange point.”
PCH has been involved the development of more than two-thirds of the world’s IXPs, and Wooding has been actively involved in IXP deployments across the region. To be truly successful, he said, exchange points have to have a clear plan for attracting local and international content providers and encouraging local Internet innovation to take advantage of the local exchange.
“Deliberate steps must now be taken to encourage local organisations to build local apps, create local content and deploy local services. A new set of local stakeholders must now be mobilised to steward the process of translating the promise of a local IX into the reality of a local Internet economy."
The four-member INET TT panel discussion highlighted the urgent need for significant upgrades to critical Internet infrastructure across the region. It included Internet Society (ISOC) representatives Jane Coffin and Christian O'Flaherty, who emphasised the importance of IXPs globally in improving the resilience, efficiency and security of local networks.
Setting up an IXP is not technically difficult and is not necessarily costly, Coffin said, but it does require collaboration and cooperation, at times among parties who are otherwise competing in the same market.
In the audience were dozens of regional and local technology experts gathered at the TATT office in Barataria for the two-day forum, which was also broadcast globally to a live streaming audience online.
Called INET TT, the event brought together private sector representatives, government officials, academic researchers and members of the local and international technical community. Present were delegates from the regional Internet registry for Latin America and the Caribbean (LACNIC), the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and the T&T Network Information Centre (TTNIC).
The fourth speaker on the INET TT panel on IXPs was Kurleigh Prescod, vice president of network services at Columbus Communications Trinidad. Prescod, who is the chairman of T&T’s recently launched IXP, shared perspectives from his personal experience of working with colleagues from competing ISPs to set up the local exchange point.
Called TTIX, the new IXP brought together seven of the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs): Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago, Digicel, Massy Communications, Open Telecom, Greendot, Lisa Communications and Flow.
“TTIX is a limited liability company formed by all existing Internet service providers in Trinidad and Tobago,” said Cris Seecharan, TATT CEO. He described the TTIX launch as “one of TATT’s major contributions to the country’s Internet landscape.”
The next step, he said, was to work with TTIX in seeking to establish a root server for the IXP.
Vashty Maharaj, an official from the ministry of science and technology delivering remarks on behalf of the minister, described IXPs as “a vital part of the Internet ecosystem.”
"TTIX is intended to make the exchange of local traffic more cost effective and contribute to the development of a robust domestic ICT sector,” she said.
The ministry applauded the ISPs for working with TATT to bring better and more affordable broadband Internet connectivity to all local Internet users.
“We want our people to experience all of the social and economic benefits of becoming active participants in the digital society and economy,” she said. The ministry applauded the ISPs for working with TATT to bring better and more affordable broadband Internet connectivity to all local Internet users.
There are over 350 IXPs around the world, of which nine are in the Caribbean. Among the territories in the region actively engaged in setting up IXPs are Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
T&T has become the latest Caribbean nation to launch an Internet exchange point (IXP). Called TTIX, the local IXP brings together seven of the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs). Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT), Digicel, Massy Communications, Open Telecom, Greendot, Lisa Communications and Flow have signed on to the local exchange point.
TTIX connects the ISPs to a special network switch that is physically located at the Fujitsu data center in Barataria.
The new exchange point will give the ISPs a cost-effective way to connect their customers to locally destined content and services.
The chairman of TTIX is Kurleigh Prescod of Columbus Communications, who described the launch as “a very significant milestone.”
Globally, IXPs have been shown to improve the resilience, efficiency and security of local networks.
Prescod said the new IXP will improve local Internet performance and “act as an incentive to attract content providers, such as Netflix, Akamai and Google, to establish a point of presence in Trinidad and Tobago.”
There are over 350 IXPs around the world. T&T became the ninth in the Caribbean, joining British Virgin Islands (BVIX), Curacao (AMS-IX), Dominica (DANIX), Grenada (GREX), Haiti, St Maarten (OCIX), St Lucia (SLIX) and the Dominican Republic.
Jean-Paul Dookie, executive vice president of government business for Fujitsu described the new exchange point as “an essential building block towards the development of the Trinidad and Tobago knowledge economy.”
The promise of a better local Internet experience, data security and commercial opportunities has been one of the greatest incentives to establishing IXPs across the Caribbean.
“Tremendous progress has been made in sensitizing the region to the importance of building out national Internet infrastructure. Now we are seeing the fruit,” said Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).
Lewis described the TTIX launch as a direct result years of education, outreach and ongoing efforts by the CTU to promote the proliferation of IXPs in the Caribbean. The CTU’s collaboration with international organisations such as Packet Clearing House, the Internet Society (ISOC) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of local IXPs in T&T and across the region.
Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are actively engaged in setting up IXPs.
From T&T Guardian
Mobile telecommunications operators in the region will continue to take advantage of consumers until stronger regulatory frameworks are built to protect Caribbean citizens. Regulators across the region must take decisive action to protect consumer choice, and the neutrality of the Internet across the Caribbean.
“As far as I am aware, subscribers pay service providers for access to the Internet. As far as I am aware, service contracts do not specify what form the information transported must take. I do not see the justification for blocking VoIP,” said Kim Mallalieu, Senior Lecturer, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.
Stronger consumer protection needed
“The action of these ISPs sets a dangerous precedent and could have a deleterious impact on efforts to leverage ICTs for both economic and social development across the region,” said Internet Strategist and Business Guardian columnist Bevil Wooding, in a strongly worded opinion piece on the emerging situation.
Data, not minutes, is the new currency for telecom providers, said Wooding, adding that Caribbean telecom providers have not evolved to meet the realities of business in the Internet age. Shernon Osepa, a telecommunications industry analyst specialising in Internet Policy, agreed.