MPAI RFC on “Draft Policy on the Universality of telecommunications service provision in Trinidad and Tobago”

The Ministry of Public Administration and Information (MPAI) is inviting comments from interested parties for a second round of consultation on the draft policy on the Universality of Telecommunications Service provision in Trinidad and Tobago. A discussion of the decisions made subsequent to the comments and recommendations received is also available. The public is invited to submit comments to further aid the development of a methodology for ubiquitous access to telecommunications services by August 31st, 2007.

Excerpts from the Draft Policy :

The aim of this policy is to promote universal access to telecommunications services for all persons in Trinidad and Tobago by facilitating the orderly, systematic, dispersed development and provision of telecommunications services at affordable rates in Trinidad and Tobago in a manner that facilitates access by all citizens while encouraging innovation and incentive for investment in the ICT sector.

The major objectives of facilitating access to telecommunications and wider Information and Communication Technologies to all communities and thus all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are:

  • to encourage full participation in Twenty-first Century society by members of Trinidad and Tobago’s society;
  • to promote political, economic and cultural cohesion;
  • to bridge the digital divide in the country;
  • to encourage a more balanced distribution of access to digital technology among all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago
  • to promote economic development; and
  • to enhance the competitiveness of Trinidad and Tobago

Under the summary of Policy Prescriptions, which is interesting given the recent TSTT/TATT spat over TSTT proposed introduction of a Single Rate for fixed lines :

4. The [Telecommunications] Authority [of Trinidad and Tobago] shall determine the public telecommunications services to which universality shall apply to provide the requisite benefits to society. Such services shall include at a minimum:

  • affordable Domestic call origination and termination;
  • affordable narrowband public data services of throughput no less than fifty six kilo bits per second (56 kbps);
  • access to international call origination and termination services; and
  • free 24-hour access to emergency call service

Such determinations shall be subject to periodic review as defined by the Authority.

8.2 Affordability

5. The Authority shall ensure price for basic telecommunications access must be so structured as to meet recognised affordability criteria, individually or cumulatively.

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fastforward : National Broadband Strategy For Trinidad & Tobago

The Ministry of Public Administration and Information (MPAI) has on its fastforward website a press release titled “National Broadband Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago“. No concrete details are mentioned, perhaps a PDF document will be made available soon.

Text of the National Broadband Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago press release :

Imagine an eight-lane highway with vehicles travelling freely and safely at high speeds in both directions. In contrast, picture a two-lane street with ‘bumper to bumper’ traffic and irate drivers on either side sounding their car horns in a concerto of sheer frustration. Those travelling along the highway experience little or no congestion and arrive at their destinations in acceptable time. Those travelling along the street encounter the traffic jam, nevertheless arriving at their destinations, but only after hours and hours of delay. In the Internet world, Broadband is a communications autobahn with no speed limit and dial-up access is a slow street.

The Government recognizes the need for reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet services to be accessible by all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. This is a key focus of the National Broadband Strategy, which also considers the importance of developing local content. In the paradigm of highways and streets, the carriageway is the “how” and content is the “what” and “why” of passage.

Successful implementation of the National Broadband Strategy will allow Internet connection speeds of up to 40 times faster than current dial-up access, presenting new opportunities and advancements in areas such as education (distance learning, webcasts), health care (telemedicine, remote diagnosis), government (public services online), business (buying / selling goods online) and entertainment (streaming audio / video, interactive gaming). Additionally, the Strategy envisions the establishment of Broadband infrastructure and services as foundation blocks in the country’s evolution towards a knowledge-based society.

The National Broadband Strategy, as proposed by the Ministry of Public Administration and Information, promotes the establishment of Broadband facilities and services, and is aligned with the development and amplification of both the telecommunications sector and the National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategy, fastforward. The Broadband Strategy outlines key approaches for addressing the requirements of different sectors of society – the Public Sector, the Private Sector and the Non-Energy ICT–based Sector.

Among the Strategy’s infrastructure considerations are the landing of additional international submarine fibre optic cables, the establishment of data centres and carrier hotels, and the creation of a domestic Internet Exchange Point (IXP).

The Government has undertaken to make Broadband services available to at least 80% of the population by December 2008.

TSTT provides more details on its Single National Rate Plan for fixed line calls

TSTT has posted a second notice about its Single National Rate Plan which mentions its position regarding TATT and mentions a initial cap on fixed line calls within the exchange area (currently 23 cents unlimited). For the first 3 months from September 7th, 2007, charges for calls within the same exchange area will be limited to 69 cents per call, regardless of length. After the first three months, the next three months, charges for calls will be limited to $1.15 per call, regardless of length.

Here is the text of the second TSTT press release :

TSTT Clarifies Single National Rate Plan Announcement

TSTT’s wishes to provide additional information regarding our announcement of plans to implement a single national rate. The principal issues centre around TSTT’s notification requirements relative to the Regulator, TATT, and its customers; whether the Regulator has the authority to approve/disapprove the proposed rate revision; as well as the actual impact of the Single National Rate on customers.

TSTT’s position on the issues regarding TATT is that we have notified TATT in the manner prescribed in our Concession Agreement. In fact, TSTT has used this same procedure on two other rate changes during the past year. TATT raised no objections to the procedure in either instance. Customer notification of this Single National Rate was also carried out in accordance with the Concession Agreement. Given this compliance, along with the precedent set for previous rate adjustment action, TSTT believes that it has fully observed all relevant regulations in announcing the Single National Rate. Moving forward, TSTT will continue to work with TATT to ensure that any misunderstandings regarding procedural requirements for notifications are resolved.

Further, according to the Telecommunications Act of 2001, service providers are required to seek approval for proposed rate changes only if the Regulator has implemented a Price Regulation Regime. We understand that work on this regime is in process at TATT; however, no price regulations exist at this time. TSTT is of the view, therefore, that there is no requirement to await regulatory approval of the Single National Rate.

Most importantly, however, we must remember that the Single National Rate plan is in response to our customers’ desire for simpler calling plans. Advancements in telecommunications technology have tended to negate distance as a factor in determining calling rates. The single national rate is a reflection of this trend. Introducing the Single National Rate seeks to align customers’ preferences with the calling rate structures experienced in international and mobile calling. The plan has already been hailed as offering huge cost savings for many of our customers.

Nevertheless, TSTT is mindful that some of our customers may need some time to adjust to the new rate plan, particularly as it relates to calls within an exchange area. Such calls today have an effective rate of 23 cents per call. As such, from September 2007 to February 2008, charges for such calls will be ‘capped’ or limited for this period of time. For the first 3 months, charges for calls within the same exchange area will be limited to 69 cents per call, regardless of length. For the following three months they will be limited to $1.15 per call, regardless of length. TSTT will monitor the price-ceiling mechanism throughout this period as the company works to ensure the best possible service solutions are provided to customers.

TATT says TSTT’s Single National Rate has not been approved by them

The recent TSTT announcement of a Single National Rate has generated some controversy (really?). The Telecom Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) according to a Trinidad Express article on Wednesday August 8th, 2007 :

TATT, in response to TSTT’s notice, said that the move to revise the telephone rates was done illegally and without the necessary approval.

“The Authority wishes to notify the public that no approval has been granted to TSTT to revise its existing tariffs for fixed line to fixed line calls, since it has not yet had the opportunity to determine the likely impact of the proposed tariff change to consumer bills, if the proposed changes are to be implemented,” TATT said.

It added that TSTT was required to give the Authority 30 days notice first and then another 30 days notice to the public before rates could be revised as part of its regulatory obligations.

A consumer impact study done by TATT indicated that customers will be experiencing a 300 per cent increase on three-minute calls within the same exchange (area) with the new rates.

And TSTT, in response to TATT :

Lisa Agard, TSTT’s vice president, Legal and Regulatory, told the Express last night that all the proper regulations in keeping with TSTT’s concession agreement were followed.

“TSTT regards (TATT’s) statement as vexatious and completely without merit. In the first place there is absolutely no requirement either under the Telecommunications Act or under TSTT’s concession that approval had to attained from TATT when a concessionaire wants to revise its existing rates,” Agard said.

She added that the need for TSTT to give the Authority a prior 30 days notice was also not in the relevant regulations.

In its revision of tariffs, which was done as close as April this year, TSTT has not given TATT any prior 30 days notice and it has never been called into question, Agard said.

She added that if the Authority intends to take legal action, as it indicated in its statement yesterday, then TSTT is fully prepared to stand by its position as it is completely within the law.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has also spoken out against the Single National Rate :

The new single national rate which TSTT expects to bring into effect early next month is illegal, says secretary general of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Lyle Townsend.

Townsend was speaking at a press conference held at the union’s Port of Spain headquarters yesterday, where he commented on TSTT’s intention to implement a new rate on fixed phone lines.

“This is about a basic increase in the telephone service calls. It’s an increase of a minimum of 300 per cent,” he said, adding that customers in the same exchange would no longer have “unlimited” access.

Townsend said that the average consumer is ignorant of the billing process and that TSTT is taking advantage of that fact.

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