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Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell, says the government is committed to cultivating and preserving a competitive environment in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) auditorium, New Kingston on Thursday (January 19), Mr. Paulwell assured that the country would not return to the pre-1999 telecommunications services monopoly situation.

“Those days are gone and they will not return,” the Minister asserted.

Speaking against the background of the recent acquisition of Claro by Digicel, Mr. Paulwell said that the Ministry was now actively engaged in trying to resolve issues of competition that are at the “heart of the matter”.

“We are currently in negotiations with both of the major parties to resolve these, and we have given ourselves a deadline of two weeks to sort out some of the competition issues that will affect the industry,” he said.

The Minister reiterated his stance that access to communication services and the right to communicate freely, remain pressing national and developmental objectives of the government.

 He said the duty to regulate the provision of communication services remains the responsibility of the government, noting that recent experience has shown the extent to which slow or inefficient regulatory oversight can damage the industry.

Mr. Paulwell noted that the telecommunications industry has always been regulated, pointing out that the task of restoring certainty, fairness and transparency to the regulatory process is one to which the government remains committed.

“Both Digicel and Lime operate their mobile networks under an evolving regulatory environment, and the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) is yet to complete its work on the changes that need to be introduced,” he said, noting that it is the job of the government to complete the work and set the rules for the market to operate efficiently.

“The urgency for this is not lost on me,” the Minister assured.

Mr. Paulwell said the issue of enabling a competitive landscape for telecommunications is one that the government is dealing with to ensure that, in a short while, it would have rectified a number of the interconnectivity issues that continue to plague the industry.

“One matter that we will resolve very quickly is the matter of number portability, because in a competitive environment I believe it is a pre-requisite for consumers to be able to take their numbers and go to any provider they want,” he said.

The Minister said another important task the government would like to achieve is a single regulator market.

“This market has the phenomenon known as convergence, so you now have that same vehicle that transports voice telephony, now transporting data, cable and the internet. We therefore have to give recognition to convergence,” he said.

He stated that one objective the government has set itself, is for Jamaica to regain its predominant position in the Caribbean as the preferred ICT destination.

“We have lost our position to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and others – we are going to become, in two years time, number one,” he assured.

“There no reason why we shouldn’t, as we have telecoms infrastructure that’s first class, and we have people who are bright and talented,” he explained.

He gave a commitment that to facilitate this upward movement in the sector, the government will work to create office space, make broadband widespread and use universal access to enable the poor access to broadband services.

 

By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter