Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Regulators conference gets under way today

Published:Wednesday | October 26, 2016 | 10:00 AMJovan Johnson
David Geddes

Montego Bay, St James:

The Organisation Of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR) is expected to approve a proposal for the group to work with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) in the regional push for a single information and communications technology (ICT) space that could see the scrapping of roaming charges in two years' time.

That is one of the major decisions expected from the meeting of regional utility regulators for the 14th OOCUR conference, which starts today in Montego Bay, St James, according to David Geddes, the organisation's executive director.

"The CTU has requested that the OOCUR collaborate with them on creating a single ICT space that the CARICOM secretariat was mandated to develop over the next few years. The heads of government say the region should have a single ICT space, which would mean that when you move from Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago to Barbados to St Lucia, one simple thing is that you wouldn't be paying roaming rates because you are moving in a single telecom space," he said.

Geddes added that he has already met with the CTU's secretary general and he expects the OOCUR's leadership to approve the working relationship at the conference.

"The executive council of OOCUR [may] give a formal mandate to say we will undertake to work with the CTU to get the single ICT space created. That, again, is the prerogative of the board members. I would not want to pre-empt the board members, but fundamentally, I do not see any issues that would prevent us collaborating with the CTU," explained the former director in Jamaica's Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR).

SINGLE ICT SPACE ROAD MAP

At a special meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development in Barbados last month, CARICOM ICT ministers endorsed the road map for the region's single ICT space.

The road map will go for approval before heads of government at their intersessional meeting next year, two years before the 2019 deadline for the hoped for implementation.

The single ICT space will allow for harmonisation of the ICT and other legislative frameworks, the removal of roaming charges, the encouragement of digital entrepreneurship, equipping all citizens as digital citizens, and looking at ICT financial solutions, among other regional benefits.

Densil Williams, professor of international business at the University of the West Indies, said the ICT issue, especially its regulation, has to be quickly addressed given the implications for regional economic growth and development.

"ICT regulation is not the same thing as regulation for other utilities. In Jamaica, you have telecoms which are regulated in some cases by the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, some cases the Spectrum Management Authority and in some cases the OUR. All of that needs to be streamlined and come under one thing for a single regulator for the ICT sector, and then you have another regulatory arm dealing with utilities which are separate."

He argued that the rationalisation at the national level would quicken the efforts to implement the single ICT space and regulation for the region.

MAJOR ICT FIRMS

"We have major ICT firms that are pan-Caribbean, like Digicel and FLOW. A single regulator would actually enhance the efficiency with which they deal with regulation across the sector. What you wouldn't want is a different regulatory structure in Jamaica versus a different regulatory structure in the Eastern Caribbean," said the executive director of the Mona School of Business and Management.

Meanwhile, Richard Crawford, co-founder of the advocacy group Citizens United to Reduce Electricity, said the regional regulators have to become more active in helping the Caribbean embrace alternative energy sources such as wind and solar over crude oil.

"The regulators have to come in with strong recommendations on regulations that have to encourage the use of alternative sources of energy. The process you go through to convert to alternative sources of energy is a bit tedious still. Yes, the regulators are there to ensure customers get value for money, but that is the traditional role," he said.

"The regulators must have a new role that looks forward for new sources of energy and new technologies to come in."

The conference, being held under the theme 'Regulation: Creating a Spectrum of Oppor-tunities in the Caribbean', has a packed agenda that includes discussions on Britain's vote to leave the European Union, and investment in water and sewage and clean energy.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness will deliver the main address at this morning's opening of the conference that's expected to be attended by more than 160 regional and international regulators and experts.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com