Jamaicans slow on Internet highway - Paulwell
Tuesday June 11, 2002
PHILLIP PAULWELL, Industry, Commerce and Technology Minister, yesterday lamented the lack of significant growth in Internet access among Jamaicans, despite the recent issuing of licences to 20 Internet Service Providers (ISP).
Jamaicans were also for the first time last year allowed to bring computers into the island duty free while General Consumption Tax was waived.
Despite these concessions, it's likely to take half a decade before five per cent of the population have direct Internet access.
"When I look at the number of Jamaicans who have access to the Internet, I am not seeing the growth that is desirable for a poor third world country trying to reach the first world ranks," Mr. Paulwell said. "I want in five years to get Jamaica where approximately five per cent of our people have direct access to the Internet."
He was addressing participants at a public consultation on telecommunications policy reform at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston. The public consultation on matters related to the telecommunications industry was held against the background of ongoing policy issues being examined by the Jamaica Telecommunications Advisory Council (JTAC).
Organised by the Technology Ministry and the JTAC, the consultation is the first in a series of discussions to allow the public to make recommendations regarding the policy and regulatory framework for a fully liberalised telecommunications sector.
Government is considering an overhaul of the existing Telecommunications Act 2000, as part of the reform process in preparation for full liberalisation of the sector after March, 2003. Liberalisation started with the unravelling of Cable and Wireless' monopoly regime in September 1999 with the signing of a Heads of Agreement at Jamaica House. Since that time, two new cellular companies and several Internet providers have entered the local telecommunications market.
Pointing to possible new legislation to regulate the sector, Paulwell said: "The law as we now have it cannot remain... some tremendous amendments or new laws will be necessary. Important issues have to be dealt with as to who is going to regulate the industry."
Among the proposed policy directions being contemplated are:
The deepening of competition in the industry;
Determining the role and future of regulatory institutions;
The delivery of service to remote and under serviced areas.
policy implications of technology convergence;
industry and global connectivity;
mass sharing and location of cell sites;
and licensing policy and mechanisms for public accountability.
Hugh Campbell of Emacol Internet Service pointed out that if the major players would be offering and also selling services, then the process had to be closely monitored. He said it should come in for stringent regulation.
"If interconnection fees are not assigned properly, then it inevitably will not allow for fair competition. It has to be set at a margin that other players can actually make a profit if they enter that arena," he remarked.
Seamus Lynch, Digicel Jamaica's chief executive officer, said the regulatory body set up should have the necessary expertise to effectively protect competitors.
"The one thing that will impede or slow down growth in telecommunications and information technology is a lack of expertise in the regulatory body," he warned.