Internet Society hosts Internet Governance Day in Guyana

The Internet Society successfully hosted an Internet Governance Day as part of Internet Week Guyana, being held in Georgetown from October 9 to 13. 

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Digicel bigwigs in closed talks with Cable and Wireless, Columbus execs in Port-of-Sain

cable-wireless-columbus_0Top executives of the region's three major telecommunications players hammered out their differences in a five-hour meeting hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) in Port-of-Spain.
Telecom execs Denis O’Brien (Digicel), Phil Bentley (Cable and Wireless Communications) and Brendan Paddick (Columbus Communications) met to discuss the recently announced US$3 billion acquisition of Columbus Communications by Cable and Wireless.
“If this merger takes place, you will eliminate a very vibrant competitor in Columbus, and Cable and Wireless will basically own the market in T&T, Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada,” O’Brien said in a December 10 telephone interview, echoing the concerns of regional officials who fear that the proposed deal will result in the formation of a monopoly or near-monopoly in many Caribbaen markets for telephony, cable TV and broadband services.
“This is crazy stuff!” he said.

Digicel also wanted to buy Columbus, but valued it under, at 2 billion euros (US$2.49 billion). If Digicel had acquired Columbus, it would have also had a stranglehold on segments of the market in the region, a December 9 Irish Times article reported.
But asked if he would have been so outspoken for rigorous regulatory oversight in those circumstances, O’Brien said, “We would have kept Columbus and been head to head with Cable and Wireless and Lime.”
Instead, with the acquisition of Columbus by CWC, the new merged entity will control 100 per cent of fixed, broadband and submarine cables across the region, he claimed.
A Digicel-Columbus would have added competition to the Caribbean market, not eliminated it, O'Brien said.
“We would have had to go through the process with all the governments and regulators in the region. We would not have ducked that. If we buy a business, we have to get approval from the government. Simple as that.”
A high-level panel discussion with the three regional telecoms giants and local players GreenDot, DirectTV and TSTT took place behind closed doors in a forum hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), a Caricom organisation that advises regional governments on approaches to telecommunications and technology issues.
At the top of the agenda for the CTU’s two-day meeting is the formulation of a regional response to the CWC-Columbus merger.Industry observers regard the CTU’s entry as a response to a region-wide concern over issues beyond the CWC-Columbus deal itself. Internet Strategist Bevil Wooding described the deal as “part of a wider trend of market consolidation taking place in the region’s telecommunications sector” and worldwide.
In the CTU forum were delegates from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (Tatt) and the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (Ectel), Belize, Suriname, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, as well as other government and civil society organisations.

How will regional regulators respond to CWC's acquisition of Columbus?

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.

TTIX key to internet economy growth

Left to right, Ronald Mohammed, IPTV technologies manager, TSTT, Rehanna Jaleel, legal and regulatory manager, and Kurleigh Prescod, vice president network services, Columbus Communications, at the Internet Society's INET TT Forum, hosted by the Telecommunications Authority, Barataria, October 8 and 9, 2014, PHOTO: GERARD BEST 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 launches internet exchange point

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 4.34.49 PMT&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

Industry experts agree: Regulators must protect Caribbean mobile subscribers

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.

This is the consensus emerging among several Latin America and Caribbean Internet and telecommunications industry experts who spoke to the T&T Guardian after a move by regional mobile operators Digicel and LIME to block Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services over their networks in Haiti, Jamaica and T&T.
Digicel’s decision to take action against the VoIP operators was first announced last month in Haiti, where their customer base of four million mobile broadband subscribers includes some 200,000 users of VoIP services such as Magic Jack, Google Talk, Viber, Tango and FaceTime. Digicel customers in Haiti were soon joined by their counterparts in Jamaica, where mobile competitor LIME also banned Viber.
In T&T, the move triggered backlash from concerned consumers, many of whom immediately took to social media to express their concern and displeasure. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) later announced via press release that it had requested that Digicel reconsider its position, while a post on the telco’s Facebook page said it was “pleased to resume all VoIP-based products while TATT is engaged in investigating the negative impact of unlicensed providers and the adverse impact they have on infrastructure based investment in Trinidad and Tobago.”
But many industry watchers are describing the move by Digicel as unjustified and dangerous.
Dr Kim Mallalieu
Dr Kim Mallalieu

“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.

“The implications are very straightforward: customers lose since they are prevented from using applications that for many of them justify having a [mobile broadband Internet] connection,” said telecom analyst Jose Otero, president of industry intelligence firm Signals Telecom Consulting.
jose-otero_400“It’s also bad news for local developers who may see their applications blocked by mobile operators if they consider them to be competing with one of their services. However, at the end of the day it’s an issue that needs to be solved by each island’s local regulatory authorities.”
The T&T Guardian also contacted the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre (LACNIC), one of five regional Internet registries which provide critical background services that support the global operation of the Internet.
“Measures like these degrade, discriminate, block and prejudice the rights of users in activities Internet based,” said Cesar Diaz, expert on regulatory frameworks at LACNIC.
The “Internet ecosystem”, Diaz explained, depends on regulators’ ability to defend a number of fundamental rights including users’ right to access legitimate content and applications of their choice, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy and confidentiality of communications.
“Regulators should enforce basic principles for the protection of consumers from arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on the use of Internet. Users must have within their services agreements access to legitimate content of their choice. You must be able to run applications of their choice, and connect any device of your choice to access the Internet.”
Without impairing the rights of operators, industry regulations should promote the development of the Internet market, expand its access to more users and improve the quality of services, said Diaz, who worked for the Panamanian regulator ASEP before joining LACNIC.

Stronger consumer protection needed

“Latin American operators are not going to block mobile VoIP since they already lost that battle over ten years ago when they tried to block fixed VoIP,” Otero said.
He and Diaz are among several local and international observers who are saying that regulators such as TATT, Haiti’s National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) and Jamaica’s Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) must now take swift, strong action to protect Caribbean consumers.
Bevil Wooding
Bevil Wooding

“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.

According to telecom industry analysts, the move by Digicel and LIME is motivated by falling revenues and voice traffic, as consumers increasingly look for ways to bypass costly calling rates, Jacquelines Charles writes in a Miami Herald report on the developing situation.
It is because mobile service providers impose such high international call termination rates and “artificially high” intra-regional roaming charges that Caribbean consumers are fighting to hold on to VoIP alternatives, Wooding pointed out.
“Why are roaming costs and international call rates so expensive? And who benefits the most from this? There are reasons why Internet-based voice services like Skype, Viber, Vonage and Magic Jack so popular. These services provide consumers and business across the region with an affordable option for communicating with friends, family and business partners.”
Shernon Osepa
Shernon Osepa

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.

“Digicel is a mobile operator with voice services as one of its main services. You would notice that they don't mind if consumers are just "browsing" the Internet. That doesn't affect them. They have problems with applications such as Skype and Viber as these are a direct threat to their own voice services.”
“The regulator should promote sound competition which will lead to innovative services and affordable prices. It should also protect consumers from abusive behaviors. On the other hand, operators must also be able to adapt their business models constantly in order to be in harmony with technological developments.”
But, Osepa said, most regulators “don't really understand the Internet economy”, and they therefore need to quickly learn more about the new rules of engagement in order to do their jobs more effectively.
“This is the only way they can draft sound policies in this modern world.”
TATT’s policy on the procedures for the introduction of tariff changes, promotions, new services and bundles in the telecommunications sector remains a draft document.
“This is probably a case where the government should initiate a public dialogue to determine the appropriate public policy approach that encourages further investment by operators like Digicel while also creating opportunity for innovation and ensure the protection of consumer interests,” Osepa said.