Minister with Responsibility for Information, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, says the passage of amendments to the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2012 represents a “big win” for the Jamaican consumer.
She argued that the changes to the Act, which were passed by the Upper House on May 4 following approval in the House of Representatives earlier in the week, will render the consumer “king” in the telecommunications market.
“They will allow our consumers to reap greater benefits from liberalisation and they will have greater choices. Consumers are the real winners as they will benefit from increased value, better products and improved service,” she stated.
The legislation, among other things, 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.
The updated terms of the Act pave the way for number portability, which will allow customers to move to any network, while retaining their original number. The important matter of infrastructure sharing is also addressed by empowering the OUR to set infrastructure sharing rules. This means that operators can be mandated to share facilities, such as cell sites towers, where the regulator considers that this is justified.
Senator Falconer stated that the new legislation will modernise the regulation of the telecoms industry, correct several anomalies, and create a level playing field for all service providers.
She said it will also bring the regulatory framework in line with what is practised in most countries, as providers will compete on real market issues, such as price, innovation and customer service.
It will also promote transparency, she said, as regulators can request information from telecommunications licensees, which will not only facilitate their ability to carry out their function, but will expand the information available to customers, as they make choices.
“The regulator can now request information relating to the quality of service measurements, prices charged to customers and other licensees, network coverage of licensees, the market share of licensees, and the subscriber base of licensees,” she said.
Government Senator, Floyd Morrison, in voicing his support, said the legislation promises to open numerous possibilities and opportunities for members of the disabled community. “The disabled community is using the technology to empower themselves and it assists them significantly in terms of their work and in terms of their studies,” he pointed out.
Senator Morrison was however, among a number of Senators, who raised concern about placing the power to regulate call rates solely in the hands of the OUR. He said there is a perception that the OUR is not responsive to the “ordinary man” and the regulatory body must work to change this image.
Opposition Senator, Tom Tavares-Finson, also expressed concern that the legislation “was giving the OUR powers, which some may consider to be quite alarming”.
Senator Falconer, in response, said that the industry and consumers will benefit from OUR’s ability to intervene and stabilise the market speedily. “It is important that such powers lie with the regulator, rather than the Minister, as it reinforces the independence of the regulator,” she stated.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter