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NTRC head calls for power to regulate mobile rates

NTRC head calls for power to regulate mobile rates

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The executive director of the local National Telecommunications Regulatory Committee (NTRC) is adamant that mobile rates within the region should be regulated.

Speaking at a public consultation and panel discussion held on Tuesday, February 24, to discuss the proposed merger between Cable and Wireless{{more}} Communications and Columbus Communications, executive director of the NTRC Apollo Knights said that with mobile rates currently being unregulated, there is “little” the NTRC could do about price increases.

“It makes no sense [that] we are regulating fixed line rates, and there are three times as many mobile customers. We can’t continue to regulate fixed line and not mobile,” he insisted.

Knights pointed out that mobile rates are 10 times as much as fixed line rates, so this makes for an even more compelling reason why the mobile rates of regional telecommunication providers should be regulated.

President of the National Consumer Association Junior Bacchus agreed with the call for mobile rates regulation, and that regulatory bodies such as the NTRC and Eastern Caribbean Telecommunication Authority (ECTEL) should be in control of such.

“They [telecommunication providers] are free to charge rates whenever, however!” lamented Bacchus.

“The way the NTRC has been structured, it was – to me – structured with the connivance of those very companies that they are asked to regulate.”

Bacchus also pointed out that telecommunications providers seem “too comfortable” when referencing the NTRC and ECTEL, and he gets the feeling that they [providers] feel they can ignore the regulatory bodies when it suits them.

“I do not get the feeling that the NTRC is given the kind of respect and regard that they really should have when it comes to monitoring and regulating this sector,” he explained.

The National Consumer Association president beseeched Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology Camillo Gonsalves to return to the very legislation that was used to create the NTRC, in terms of future regulation and also with regard to the proposed merger between the two telecommunications giants.

“Empower the NTRC, both with the legislative teeth as well as the personnel and capacity… that will enable them to deal with the regulation of these companies,” insisted Bacchus.

Knights said that he is of the belief that regulation should also be applied to mobile promotions launched by telecommunications providers LIME and Digicel, which should also be overseen by the NTRC.

Additionally, he feels that the regulatory body should be doing more in terms of Flow’s customer policies.

“It’s something that has been inherited from Karib Cable,” he outlined. “we’ve had a lot of complaints over the years, and the main reason was Karib Cable came in before the Telecoms Act. They had a licence agreement from 1997, which has conditions on how to operate. Even when the Telecoms Act came in, they were still under that [old] agreement.”

Knights said that when the proposed US$3.1 billion merger between CWC and Columbus Communications became public knowledge last year, the NTRC, in conjunction with ECTEL, recommended a suspension of the inplementation of a new price cap plan,­­­­­ which was taken on board.

“ECTEL was working… on a new price cap plan to replace the current one,” he said. “One of the main changes… was to remove fixed Internet from the price cap plan… but after the merger was announced, we see the potential implications to the consumer, whereby you’ll have [only] one provider more or less providing fixed Internet…”

Regarding the proposed merger, Bacchus said that it would result in the return of a regional “monopoly,” and that governments must use their powers to negotiate on behalf of the consumers, to protect their needs and interests.

“We must enable the market to be as liberal as possible… we, the consumers, must be aware!”

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