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No more locked cell phones - Paulwell ... Telecom companies have agreed to move as part of number-portability deal

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2016 | 1:00 AMJerome Reynolds
Cellular phone companies have agreed to stop selling locked phones as part of number portability arrangements.
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Jamaican consumers can now walk into a retail store of any of the two local telecommunication companies and purchase an unlocked instrument.

Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell says telecom companies have given "tacit" agreement to the move as part of the arrangement under number portability. Paulwell says the parties agreed to go this route instead of the introduction of new legislation by the Government to give effect to the change.

"I have asked the team [the committee set up to introduce number portability] to monitor whether or not the locking is taking place because then we'll have to, by policy, instruct that it be discharged as a measure by the companies" he said.

"My position is that the customers ought to be free to move with not only their numbers but also their instruments, unless there is a contractual arrangement that the customer has signed."

WINDS OF CHANGE

Generally, telecom companies are against selling open-market phones, arguing that the devices are subsidised for them to be made available to consumers. Companies have also argued that it is important to keep customers to their network as it gives them guaranteed business.

However, Paulwell says the winds of change have come to the local mobile-phone business.

"Just to say that the phones are being sold cheaply, and there are some inherent subsidy will not for me suffice. I believe that in keeping with the spirit of portability, the providers ought not to be continuing to lock their devices once the consumer has purchased outrightly, of whatever price, the phone," the technology minister emphasised.

Number portability allows a mobile customer to move from one company to another while keeping the same telephone number. Jamaicans have been calling for the measure for years, as many have expressed dissatisfaction with their current mobile company, but are reluctant to leave because they would have to give up their numbers.

The Government introduced number portability in June and, since then, Paulwell says 55,000 mobile customers have switched networks.

The technology minister says the move to have unlocked mobile phones in the market is another plank in the Government's push to see more competition in telecoms and the eventual attraction a third player.

jerome.reynolds@gleanerjm.com