JIS News

Jamaicans may soon see a lowering of rates on both local and international calls.

This is as a result of the passing of the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2012 on Tuesday (May 1) by the House of Representatives.

The legislation grants the Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) power to set interim rates for wholesale and retail services where there is a marked diversity in rates, but will see those rates being applied without a retroactive effect.

"One of the implications, I believe, because I can't prejudge what the OUR will do, is that we are going to see a massive decline in rates and you will also see, I believe, a consequent decline in international rates," said Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell, who piloted the bill through the Lower House.

He said the decision was taken to amend the Telecommunications Act to address, inter alia, some of the major concerns highlighted in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy.

"The policy acknowledges the inadequacy of the current legislation to meet the needs of a liberalised and converged ICT environment and sets out the policy strategies to be pursued to address the gaps identified," he explained.

The Bill, which was passed with five amendments, provides for the sharing of telecommunications facilities and infrastructure where feasible. It also allows the OUR to take into account, when determining rates, all relevant factors including cost orientation and local and international benchmarks.

Responding to a comment from Member of Parliament for West Portland, Daryl Vaz, that the Minister should have some say in the setting of rates, Minister Paulwell said he is of the belief that telephone rates should be determined by the marketplace.

"These matters are really economic matters that ought to be dealt with and adjudicated by a body with the requisite expertise to do so and to separate the Minister from that type of involvement. I believe that with the power now being given to the OUR, they already have competence and we are hoping that they will be able to move with greater certainty and alacrity in that regard.

"You really want to get to a point where even the regulator is not involved, intimately in setting rates. You really want to have a competitive marketplace where the power of the market will determine rates, but we are not there and in the meantime, we have to ensure that there is a referee that will be able to guide this process,” Mr. Paulwell said.

The Senate will consider the Bill later this week and if passed, it will be sent to the Governor-General for his approval.