Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Cable operators get three-month extension

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Garry Sinclair

Jamaica's largest cable provider, Flow, plans to make full use of the three-month extension given yesterday to cable operators by the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) to cease the illegal transmission of cable channels or regularise their licensing arrangements with United States cable content generators.

Last night, the BCJ released a brief statement, declaring that, "following consultations with stakeholders and the Office of the Prime Minister, the Broadcasting Commission decided today to extend by three months the implementation of the directive issued on 24th April 2015, pending further consultations and consideration of the issues".

In response, Garry Sinclair, managing director of the newly combined LIME and Flow, told The Gleaner: "Flow welcomes the opportunity to continue working with the BCJ, the joint ministerial and regulatory committee, and all the various stakeholders on an amicable resolution to the matter of providing authorised video content to Jamaican consumers."

He continued: "As we've always stated, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to secure authorised access to the best content available to our customers and applaud the BCJ and the minister for their unwavering support and cooperation in helping us to achieve this objective."

In April, BCJ had directed the country's 49 cable operators to cease the illegal transmission of approximately 98 channels, as they were in breach of US intellectual property rights.

According to the directive, by May 31, nineteen channels were to be removed, while the others would be removed on a phased basis.

Operators had the option to regularise licensing agreements with the US companies for some of those estimated 98 illegal channels. However, they would not be able to obtain licences for several others, as those were licensed for viewing in the US market only.

However, last week, sources revealed that major stakeholders in the local cable industry appealed for the intervention of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and the de facto information minister, Sandrea Falconer, who have portfolio responsibility for the BCJ.

The cable operators argued that the BCJ's actions were taken outside of the legislative provisions. Adamant that the cease-and-desist directive should be reversed, the cable operators said the BCJ did not follow proper procedure as stipulated by Section 20 of the Broadcast and Re-diffusion Act, in issuing the directive to address what has been described as a contravention of cable TV licences.

The argument put forward was that the BCJ failed to carry out its mandate to regulate on the basis of the provisions of the act, and as such, should not have gone outside of what the law prescribes.

The cable operators said they have been in constant negotiations with US content distributors to obtain the necessary licences.

According to sources, it was coming out of a meeting with the BCJ and the OPM that the three-month extension was granted.

Cable operators now have until August 31 to follow through on the BCJ's directive.

When contacted by The Gleaner last night, the BCJ Executive Director Cordel Green refused to elaborate on the brief statement or give reasons for the extension.

"That statement stands. I think it is straightforward. It says an extension pending further consultation, so it doesn't imply that there are not other issues to be resolved, but that is what it is saying," Green said. "In that, in so far as May 31 is concerned, there is now a three-month extension and that is all we are prepared to say at the moment."

US content generators have long had an issue with Jamaican and other Caribbean cable and television companies illegally transmitting their material.

Over the years, legislation has been put in place and significant changes made by these companies to regularise their licences, including with companies like HBO and other networks. However, the challenges continue.

Under the Copyright Act 1995, cable operators must obtain permission or licences for all channels and programmes they transmit.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com