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Digicel ad control plan knocked as breach of net neutrality rules

Published:Tuesday | November 3, 2015 | 6:34 PM
The top of the Digicel Building on the Kingston waterfront, headquarters of the telecom group.

St Lucia-based Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) has written to Digicel Group warning against plans to deploy ad-blocking technology across its network, saying it breaches the region's net neutrality policy.

The regulator also warned that Digicel could be in breach of its operating licence were the telecom to follow through on its campaign.

The letter comes in response to a September 30 media release from Digicel saying it would be the first mobile service provider to deploy ad controls. The advertisements eat up broadband and negatively affect customer experience, the telecom said.

Asked whether Digicel agreed with the position taken by ECTEL, and whether it would press ahead nevertheless with its campaign in the regulator's jurisdiction, Digicel Group spokeswoman Antonia Graham chose to sidestep the issue with a general comment that the company's initiative was "unambiguously pro-consumer".

Using mobile ad control technology developed by Israeli start-up Shine Technologies, Digicel had indicated that it would begin the programme in Jamaica, before extending outwards to the Caribbean and beyond.

"The roll-out in Jamaica is complete," said Graham, the company's group head of public relations. As to the scale of the ad blockade: "Our successful pilot in Jamaica controlled 134 million ads against a customer base of 2.2 million people ..., " she said.

Graham also rejected the basis of a query by Wednesday Business on the 'savings' that would accrue to Digicel in monetary terms, as well as the unburdening of its network as a result of its campaign.


"This is not about Digicel making savings," she said. "This is about Digicel protecting customers' data from abuse. With ads using up as much as 10 per cent of a customers' data plan allowance, this move allows our customers to browse the mobile web and apps without interruption from unwanted advertising messages."

The initial press release in September specifically named Google, Facebook and Yahoo, which Digicel called out for deploying the Internet ads that they and others sell without paying for the network space.

In its letter to Digicel, ECTEL said that while it is for improving customer experience and increasing the penetration of broadband services in member states, it "strongly opposes" the method proposed as it infringes on net neutrality.

ECTEL reiterated its net neutrality position "that service providers should treat all data on the Internet the same, not intercepting, interrupting, blocking, degrading, discriminating or charging differentially", while noting that interception of any communication without the consent of the receiving party breaches amounts to a breach of the operator's licence.

"ECTEL is therefore advising Digicel to adhere to the stated principles of net neutrality and to refrain from deploying its ad control technology within ECTEL member states," the regulatory agency said.

Graham did not address the query on whether Digicel would still follow through with the roll-out in ECTEL markets, comprising Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines.

"We maintain positive relationships with our regulatory authorities across the region and are engaging with them on this issue," she said.

Gleaner and CMC reports.