Minister: Telecoms customers will continue to have challenges

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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CUSTOMERS of the country's two major telecommunications providers will continue to experience some challenges with their services, portfolio Minister Fayval Williams indicated in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Responding to questions from the Opposition following responses to a previous questions from shadow spokesperson on technology, Julian Robinson, the minister explained that Flow and Digicel had, during consultations, indicated that they were “making improvements and customers should begin to see better service”. She, however, did not state a timeline for those improvements.

For weeks, telecommunications customers have complained bitterly about dropped calls, absence of data services, and being charged for services which they were not able to access.

“First of all there is [a] recognition that we have a problem, not just recognising the complaints and having the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) to have their talks and put out a press release but to be really be honest with the Jamaican people, as I have done today, to say the network that we have in Jamaica is inadequate and it is going to take time; it is going to require leadership from this Government, which we have begun. You will begin to see the manifestation of that kind of leadership as we go forward. I would love to be able to say that customers will no longer experience the problem, but that is not so. It's a physical network that requires physical work to be done...making our network more resilient is going to take time,” she outlined.

Williams also told the House that after meeting with the OUR and the telecoms providers it is clear that the companies have not invested in modernising their networks fast enough to keep up with the growing bandwidth demand of customers, so now the infrastructure is inadequate for the country's needs.

She said it was also apparent that a high dependency on single fixed infrastructure that provides little redundancies, due to a lack of alternatives in the market, has left the networks open to various hazards and risks.

Furthermore, the minister said there is also the issue of increasing theft of network equipment across the island, and that there is an urgent need to implement tougher laws for perpetrators.

Williams stressed, however, that the providers' investments and impact on the telecommunication landscape are unquestionable

“... This is not about bashing the telecoms providers. It is to say to the Jamaican people that if Jamaica is to truly achieve the ambition of having affordable, quality high speed, true broadband connectivity, and penetration levels on par with developed nations then intervention is needed and the Government is prepared to take a leading role to work with all the stakeholders,” she stated.

The OUR said it has instructed both major telecommunications service providers to immediately provide their customers with service interruption notifications and updates on service restoration times.

According to the OUR, Digicel explained that the service issues being experienced by its customers were caused by the implementation of its modernisation programme which began two years ago. Flow, meanwhile, said it has made substantial technology/capacity upgrades to its network and that the significant increase in data traffic due to these upgrades resulted in “a signalling storm” on the network, which subsequently caused service disruption.

Director general of the OUR Ansord Hewitt said the regulator will continue to push for powers to quickly impose and enforce sanctions for customer service breaches in any future information and communication technology legislation.


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