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Answering the call, Patrick Bailey

Fayval Willams

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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I welcome the comments of Patrick Bailey in the article titled 'Hold the phone there, Minister', as published in the Jamaica Observer , on Monday, November 18, 2019 in response to my statement in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.

His article provides me with yet another opportunity to explain to the Jamaican people the Government's position in relation to the telecommunications sector.

For clarity, Bailey's questions, from my reading, appear to focus on:

a) whether the Government remains committed to the principle of competition in the telecommunications sector; and

b) whether my summoning of the telecommunication companies was an overreach of my authority and an inroad into the regulatory remit of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).

In response, my simple answer is Yes and No, respectively.

An exercise of the minister's powers

Section 6 of the Telecommunications Act empowers the minister to give to the OUR such directions of a general nature as to the policy to be followed by it in the performance of its functions under the Act, as the minister considers necessary in the public interest.

How else is it anticipated that a minister would be put in a position to determine the policy positions that would be in the best interest of the public than seeking to, among other things, apprise him/herself of the issues?

How else is a minister to ensure that the policy which is created is informed, insightful, and implementable, if s/he is aloof from the reality on the ground?

On what basis is a minister to be held responsible for the performance of the telecommunications sector if s/he is insulated from the licensed providers in the sector?

It was therefore entirely within my remit as the portfolio minister to have engaged the two licensed providers of mobile voice communications services in the manner in which I did. The meeting was not unusual; did not usurp the authority of the OUR; and does not offend the provisions of either the Telecommunications Act or the OUR Act.

In fact, both telecommunication providers have regularly requested meetings with me to update me on the status of their operations, which I welcome and encourage.

The issue of theft and vandalism of their networks was one such discussion that was very useful to have. This Government has committed to increasing awareness of the Jamaican people as to the devastating impact of theft and vandalism and making the necessary legislative changes to more severely punish those who are guilty. The ministry and the telecommunications sector have to work together. It is a part of the minister's remit. Additionally, the quality of service rules, which need to be promulgated and have the highest priority must have input from the ministry. “Overreach” is the wrong word, Bailey.

Furthermore, as noted from my statement to Parliament and the release issued by the OUR, it is the OUR that is applying its “regulatory levers” to address the quality of service issues and which has given instructions to the telecommunication providers, and customers, where applicable. I have issued none.

Competition not a new phenomenon

Competition is neither a new word nor a new concept. From the liberalisation of the telecommunications industry in Jamaica in the early 2000s, successive administrations have spoken about the need to encourage and ensure competition. This is the position outlined in the Information and Communications Technology Policy of 2011, and this is still the policy of the Government of Jamaica today.

The focus of the competition discussion, therefore, is not whether there should be competition; this is a sine qua non, but rather how should competition be encouraged.

Among other things, ensuring that the laws that govern the telecommunications sector are followed by all players, whether incumbent, new entrants or potential licensees, is an important tenet in ensuring competition and a level playing field. Among others, it guarantees stability and consistency and encourages further and future investment in the sector. Jamaica will neither be able to attract or sustain competition without it. Along with the regulator, we are working to ensure this.

It is the position of the Government that Jamaica is open for business. Therefore, all potential licensees willing to provide telecommunication services to the people of Jamaica are encouraged to apply to the appropriate authorities to do so, as Jamaica remains the premier place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

Fayval Williams is the minister of science, energy and technology.


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