Digicel not the enemy
Gail Moss Solomon, GUEST COLUMNIST
I am writing in response to an opinion piece titled 'The dark side of VoIP block' by Mr Trevor Forrest published in The Sunday Gleaner on August 24, 2014 and would like to use this forum to offer some clarification on the issues raised.
As we have stated previously, Digicel has taken a decision to block certain number-based unlicensed VoIP applications and the list is under continued review. Digicel has moved to block number-based VoIP operators such as Viber because they transmit both international and local calls using our network and the Digicel-assigned number ranges, which are tied to our telecommunications licence and attendant obligations to the public.
On the international front, Viber is engaging in bypass operations, which is an illegal activity under Jamaican law. This is a dangerous precedent if allowed to continue. Please note that in the case of international traffic coming into Jamaica, the Government collects in excess of $100,000 per day in tax via the special call tax and the USO levy. To be clear, this revenue is collected from foreign companies in foreign currency. These critical government revenues are at severe risk of being lost entirely should this dangerous slippery slope not be averted.
The definition provided by Mr Forrest is correct and the international calls terminated on the Digicel network by Viber are the activities which we believe constitute illegal bypass.
Furthermore, in terms of the local calls, the Telecommunications Act describes this as a prescribed service for which a licence is required. Viber does not possess such a licence and is arguably acting outside of the law on this front also.
These matters have been referred to the regulator for its consideration.
In terms of the bandwidth usage discussion, it is correct to say that VoIP calls use very little bandwidth and not much data, but this does not tell the full story. Cellular networks worldwide are designed to accommodate heavy use of the download capacity and less use of the upload capacity. In normal usage, such as movie downloads, there is a lot more data downloaded than uploaded. Upload only carries the request to initiate the download and is a tiny amount of data which can be passed along in a millisecond.
In the case of a VoIP call, the channel used for both the upload and download side of the conversation has to be totally secured for the sole and exclusive use of that call for its duration, regardless of the number of packets or amount of data being passed. If this does not happen, the call will be unintelligible. This means that these resources are not usable by anyone else and will cause inevitable congestion on the cell site, thereby negatively impacting the experience of other users who are browsing the Net, checking email, or streaming.
It is for this reason that Digicel has continued to maintain the 2G network for the delivery of voice traffic so as not to negatively affect customers' experience on our 4G Network.
DPI is an administrative tool used extensively by network operators across the globe to assist in the effective management of how their networks operate and to enable greater network efficiencies to be realised. In response to Mr Forrest's assertions, Digicel categorically states that any use of such technologies is always carried out in strict accordance with our obligations under the law in respect of customer information and privacy.
It is worth noting that no such obligations apply to VoIP operators, who have more extensive access to personal information and private data through access via their apps and the permissions necessarily granted by the user on acceptance of terms and conditions.
VOIP INTO CONTEXT
Digicel is working hard to ensure that consumers have access to state-of-the-art communications networks in Jamaica. There is a cost to this which we try to make as economical as possible. In order to achieve this objective, it is imperative that all service providers utilising our network pay the costs associated with their activities. There are substantial debts owed by certain VoIP operators to Digicel. These operators have failed to pay the invoices issued to them for their activity on our network. As with any other prudent business, it is essential that we deny access to anyone who wilfully refuses to pay for the services we provide.
All of these factors - unpaid invoices, tax erosion and acting outside of the law - are untenable and should be of concern to well-thinking consumers, but sadly, they are not. It seems we are far more concerned about costs than the issues of legality and the distinction between right and wrong. In our current economy, this position is understandable but not excusable.
Gail Moss Solomon is head of legal and regulatory affairs at Digicel (Jamaica) Limited. Email feedback to email@example.com.