The Net Neutrality Debate Hits the Caribbean

Russell Williams

VOIP Cell - FDPNFor some months now there has been some back and forth with regional mobile operators blocking Over The Top (OTT) services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP or Voice over IP) technologies. The news reached a crescendo when Digicel and LIME began blocking Viber and other such services, which run on top of the Internet service being provided by the operators.

The complaint typically by the operators is that our networks can’t cope with the volume of traffic services such as Viber, Skype and MagicJack and then of course there is the super-heavy weight “streaming video”.

The challenges for us in the region are numerous as are the solutions. The key challenge is the acute lack of data, well I should say independent data. Sure the service providers would claim to have data proving that their networks are inundated with VoIP and video streaming traffic. But since I have a two year old phone directory from one such provider offering me 4G and they launched 4G a few weeks ago, I think I’d rather have independently verified data.

But one of the benefits of being a “developing country” is that you can hopefully learn what works and what doesn’t from “developed” countries! A little research of network traffic would indicate that in the US last year, that Netflix and YouTube accounted for almost 45% of all download traffic! The UK and other developed countries would report something similar and we can therefore assume a similar trend. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t hurt for us to know what is actually going on in terms of our own internet consumption patterns. Indeed, this was proposed for the ECTEL states some years ago, and if it had been implemented we would have the facts on which to base intelligent decisions.

One of the main reasons being cited for blocking OTT services is that these companies which typically reside overseas do not have a licence and do not pay any taxes or contribute to the “Universal Service Fund”. But the consumer or user has paid for Internet service and has paid VAT on that service, additionally, since one needs to pay for these OTT service by credit/debit card and many banks charge a fee for every Point of Sale transaction which then attracts a VAT charge the government does get it’s piece of the action!

Another observation is to look at what the practice is elsewhere. Again a little research reveals that the dominant provider in the region – LIME – has experience of successfully lobbying for and bringing about legislation to block VoIP, and then develop procedures for tax revenue to be levied on such services. In Panama, where LIME has a joint venture with the government, they were able to convince the government that the lost taxes from companies such as Skype and other VoIP service warranted the blocking of VoIP. Today, there is unfettered access to Skype et al in Panama, why?

We need to use the tools available to us to ensure we’re not sold a six for a nine and to ensure that institutions supposedly set up to regulate and protect our interests are kept alert and watchful. Let the Consumer Affairs departments, National Telecommunications Regulatory Commissions (NTRCs) and the regional bodies know that we are not asleep and light a fire under them to make sure they neither slumber nor sleep, otherwise we will be the loser and continue to fall further behind in our development.

About the Writer

An IT Professional for more than 20 years and an entreprenuer for more than a decade, Russell Williams has extensive experience as an IT Trainer and faciliator and is happy to answer your questions. E-mail them to or follow him on Twitter @RwilliamsKN, G+

Image: Courtesy

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