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Flow wants to drop emergency operator service

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon

Flow Jamaica has informed the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) that it will no longer host a centralised emergency operator service through its network. Instead, it wants all telecoms providers to offer the service to their own subscribers.

As it is now, FLOW allows all emergency calls, except the 119 calls, which go straight to the police, to be handled by its operators, in effect acting as the de facto national call centre, the OUR said.

The services are provided free of charge to all callers.

The telecoms first advised the OUR of its "desire to cease the provision of its emergency operator service to other public telecommunications service providers", in March 2014.

More than two years later, the OUR is now advertising for a consultant for the development of policy recommendations for enhanced emergency services.

Flow is contending that it is "currently providing this service for all other public telecoms service providers at a loss".

"In other words, we have been subsidising the service with no additional funding," the telecom said.




FLOW is now offering the service on a provisional basis "based on an understanding that it will be funded from the Universal Service Fund until alternative arrangements are put in place by the responsible ministry," the OUR said in documents on its website.

"It has, therefore, become necessary to conduct an overall review of emergency service access arrangements in Jamaica and to propose technically, economically, and operationally feasible alternative means of accommodating the end-to-end process of call initiation, handling, and forwarding to emergency services providers for timely and successful dispatch of emergency assistance," the regulator said.

Managing director of FLOW Jamaica, Garfield Sinclair, Gleaner Business the company intends to scrap provision of the service to all callers and instead "relegate ourselves, in the future, to providing the service to our subscribers (only)".

Other providers should make the service available to their own customers, Sinclair said.

FLOW is making its pitch with reference to the Telecommunications Act, which requires that entities providing public telecommunications services for the purposes of making calls to numbers in the National Numbering Plan, ensure that each customer is able to reach the emergency services.

Pressed on the losses incurred, Sinclair said it varied with the number of emergencies, "especially having to accommodate competitor subscribers who should be provided this service by their provider, by law," the managing director said.

The 110 and 119 short codes became the standard emergency numbers in Jamaica roughly 45 years ago. In September 2011, the short codes 112 and 911 were introduced as global emergency numbers and to replace 110.

While 119 is used only for calling the police, 112 and 911 may be used by any caller irrespective of their location or the specific emergency service they require, the OUR said.

The OUR said there are no substantive governance arrangements regarding the emergency access service and that the consultant being recruited is meant to develop policy recommendations.

"Of particular and immediate relevance is the process whereby emergency calls are initially received and then forwarded to the appropriate emergency service providers," the regulator said.

Calls to emergency services are first routed to and/or answered by a FLOW telephone operator "who, from the information obtained from speaking directly with the caller - and thereby endeavouring to ascertain the caller's precise location - is able to forward the call to the correct emergency service provider at the nearest geographic location to the caller", the OUR said.

Telecoms providers could choose to perform the handling and forwarding of emergency calls to the appropriate emergency services providers themselves, it added.

Head of public relations at Digicel Jamaica Elon Parkinson said the company expects to be part of the consultations in the policy formulation but said it would be premature to say whether it would provide emergency operator services at this time.