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Member of Parliament for West Central St. James, Clive Mullings, has proposed that a single regulator be established for the telecommunications sector, through a merger of the telecommunications functions of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and the regulatory functions of the Spectrum Management Authority.
The Opposition Spokesman on Mining, Energy and Telecommunications, who made the proposal during his 2006/07 Sectoral presentation in the House of Representatives yesterday (July 26), further suggested that a new Telecommunications Act be established with enabling regulations, including interconnectivity, licensing, price regulation and universal services.
Also, he said, Cable and Wireless Jamaica should be required to split into retail and wholesale entities as, “this will ensure that there will be true competition, which will lower cost and provide innovative services to consumers”.
Explaining the basis for his recommendations, Mr. Mullings said that although in 2000, the telecommunications sector was liberalized with a new Telecommunications Act, allowing for competition, Cable and Wireless still maintained a dominant position in landline coverage.
He noted that the 2001 population census had revealed that the household fixed telephone penetration rate was 45 per cent and out of a total of 75,000 households, nearly 40 per cent did not have access to a telephone at home. “This restricts Internet access and it is imperative that greater competition is encouraged so that just like the mobile market, the fixed line will provide that opportunity for Jamaicans to avail themselves of the Internet,” Mr. Mullings said.
With broadband technology offering an opportunity to have all streams of communication coming through one band, he pointed out, it was critical that “we implement a strategy to promote the construction of an alternative backbone facility in Jamaica.this could be achieved by offering tax and other incentives to investors, and access to able facilities landing into Jamaica should be provided to all licensed operators and service providers”.
Mr. Mullings further questioned whether there was a level playing field in terms of the granting of licences to other players in the sector, given the fact that Cable and Wireless, Digicel Jamaica and Oceanic Digital, were all represented on the board overseeing the Universal Access Fund.
He suggested that these entities should be replaced by neutral directors, to guard against any possible conflict of interest.
The Universal Access Fund was effected in June last year, under which all telecommunications carriers now pay a service charge levy of US$0.03 per minute on all incoming international minutes for termination on fixed wired networks, and US$0.02 on all incoming international minutes for termination on cellular networks.