Minett Lawrence | Caricel's response to media publications
On December 1 and 2, 2016, two articles were published in LoopNews and The Gleaner, respectively. Both articles included quotations from United States (US) Embassy officials, purporting to comment on the legitimacy of the grant of a spectrum licence to Symbiote Investments Limited (operates as Caricel).
LoopNews reported that US authorities said the grant of licence in September 2016 "might well have implications for interconnectivity in that jurisdiction".
The casual observer might well believe that Caricel's spectrum licence allows it to provide international services. This is not so; the allocation of spectrum in the 700MHz band only permits mobile data services in Jamaica, which the company publicly announced will be offered on an LTE advanced platform.
This technology is far superior to the GSM technology on which the incumbent operators have built their mobile empire, and the real issue is that every powerful force has been brought to bear in opposing the very existence of this company. Jamaican companies do not require registration with any foreign authority in order to provide telecommunication services under licences issued in Jamaica.
The facade of raising international security issues as a legitimate concern is merely a red herring to distract the public from the real issue; namely, the resistance to competition from a company whose technology will change the communications landscape irreversibly.
When Caricel succeeds in deploying its LTE network nationally, the voice-centric revenue model of the existing GSM operators will suffer irreparable damage; and those jurisdictions in the region that are currently faced with licence applications in the 700MHz band are likely to follow Jamaica's example with potentially disastrous implications for the established operators and a life-changing benefit to customers and the ICT sector in general.
When looked at in this context, both articles lack credibility as a fair comment of any kind on the developments in the sector. Well-thinking Jamaicans should applaud Caricel's efforts, and congratulate the Government for allowing the law to take its course, and not yielding to the criticism that this company has had to endure.
US Embassy officials were quoted as saying they "have no idea if the Spectrum Management Authority had any input in the decision" to grant the licence. This unbelievable statement was accompanied by the equally disturbing expression of the fear that a Jamaican-owned company could become a haven for scammers, money launderers, and other criminals.
It would seem that the foreign-owned telecommunications operators do not evoke a similar fear, notwithstanding the current high levels of this type of activity. All Jamaicans, especially our security forces who offer the highest levels of cooperation to international law enforcement, should take offence at this statement.
Jamaica as a sovereign, independent nation needs no lessons in diplomacy or law in the exercise of its regulatory functions, or in defence of the constitutionally protected rights of citizens.
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS
Caricel is entitled to protection of its rights in property, and the licences already awarded, after it had fully satisfied a protracted and extensive due-diligence review, and complied fully with the laws of Jamaica, cannot be disturbed without significant financial and legal consequences.
It is understood that the US official who made the contentious statements said the US does not intend to meddle in Jamaica's domestic affairs; however, regardless of the intention, the impact on competition in the telecommunications industry is undeniable.
This is particularly unfortunate because the United States Government has been a long-standing advocate of free and fair competition as a tool for growth and development. It would be truly ironic if the unintentional actions of a well-meaning US official sounded the death knell for this feisty new entrant to the market.
- Minett Lawrence is the attorney-at-law for Symbiote Investments Limited. Feedback: