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Hold the phone there, Minister

Patrick Bailey

Monday, November 18, 2019

I note, with a measure of concern the statement to Parliament on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, by the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Fayval Williams.

That statement was followed by her interview on radio the next day. It raises the following questions and comments:

1. Has the minister assumed responsibility for the regulation of telecommunications?

2. If not, and this responsibility still rests with the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), was the minister's statement in Parliament approved by the OUR?

I remind the minister that section 4 (1) (a) of the OUR Act stipulates that a primary function of the OUR is to “regulate the provision of prescribed utility services by licensees or specified organisations”.

3. If it was approved by the OUR, did the OUR conduct an investigation into the recently poor and dismal quality of services provided by the telecoms companies and what are the OUR findings?

Such findings, if they do exist, should be published (or otherwise made available to the public).

The Telecommunications Act itself goes further to enumerate at section 4 the various regulatory functions of the OUR. In fact, at sub-paragraph (f) it mandates that the OUR should “make available to the public information concerning matters relating to the telecommunications industry”.

Due to the dismal services currently being provided by FLOW and Digicel, I draw attention to section 44 of the Telecoms Act, which stipulates that services must be reliable and provided with due care and skill, among other things.

4. Unless the minister has assumed authority for the regulation of telecommunications, on what authority is the minister acting in summoning the telecoms companies to account? That seems to me to be an act of ministerial overreach in purporting to arrogate on to herself the statutory functions of the OUR.

5. Equally troubling, isn't the minister's statement on the introduction of more competition in Jamaica not inconsistent with the express objects of the Telecommunications Act, and, if so, what is the Jamaica Labour Party's policy position on competition?

Section 3(a) (1) of the Telecommunications Act [the commendable handiwork of Phillip Paulwell] is about promoting fair and open competition.

6. Now that Jamaica has moved from the stranglehold monopoly of Cable & Wireless (now FLOW), is the minister's statement confirmation that the Jamaica Labour Party's policy is a duopoly in protection of the Digicel and FLOW exclusively, in breach of the Fair Competition Act?

Hopefully it has not been forgotten that an aggrieved person, by virtue of section 73(2) of the Telecommunications Act, has a right to refer a matter to the Fair Trading Commission.

I raise the foregoing matters, not out of idle curiosity, but with the objective of seeing a fair and level playing field in the telecommunications industry.

 

Patrick Delano Bailey is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Observer or patrick.bailey@btalawjm.