There were very comprehensive deliberations on the Territory’s telecommunications sector during the debate of the Motions to confirm the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC).
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton announced that the TRC has limited control over the international telecommunications companies that are based here: “The only company, and I will say it because it needs to be said, the only company that the TRC is going to be able to regulate in terms of regulation is the local CCT Company, and I can back up my statement.”
Hon. Skelton said: “The only bank that the FSC (Financial Services Commission) can regulate is the local bank. We will think it is a funny statement, but the rest of those companies are so big, and their reach is way out here that they don’t need to be here.”
“They don’t need to be here, you don’t have the technology, you don’t have the money to spend on the technology to capture what they are doing, because they could be here; and the switches are wherever they want them to be. The local companies switches are here,” the Minister added.
Hon. Skelton explained that legislators ought to be careful when they mention levelling the playing field because that could be to the detriment of the local company: “When we get up and make statements thinking that we are punishing, we are trying to level a playing field; we can’t level any playing field with international competition, and think that you have the edge. We don’t have any edge,” he announced.
THE JOYS OF GLOBAL EMPIRES
According to Hon. Skelton the revenue stream for the local business is going to be here; while the revenue stream for the international business is going to be overseas. “They can do all sorts of things…Here will be at zero profit gain while all the money goes out of the country; so we need to understand some of these things… What do you do, do you level a playing field; and kill your people, or you tilt the playing field so your people can survive. That’s the question all of us that sits under this House and think that we are making things level and international competition.” “If you open, and allow a Home Depot regardless of how small it is to enter your shores everything dead — a Walmart. When Walmart, Home Depot, and those guys go to factories in India, Taiwan, Indonesia, Africa, China they buy the capacity of every factory.”
“We got to start thinking as leaders how we can go on the cutting edge of the world product and still save our people, save our local businesses at home; and that is a difficult task because when you hear the argument, the arguments are not for saving the local businesses. The arguments are petty between us. If I don’t like you, you don’t like me and that’s what is playing in this country right now. For all sorts of reasons you don’t like me, some of them I don’t even know what they are,” he added.
The Minister strengthened his position by adding: “At the end of the day when we get old and gray some of us, if we make it, we may wonder what happened to our country; but it will be too late. It’s gonna be too late. You can’t level no playing field in this little BVI; and try to think you’re saving your own people. You can’t level the banking playing field in this country and expect the National Bank of the Virgin Islands to survive. You have to tilt the playing field to have a level playing field. Everybody playing internationally.”
THE MANY SHADES OF A SPECTRUM
The contentious issue of spectrum allocations were canvassed during the debate. The topic was broached by First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie who said: “I am one of those who firmly believe that this spectrum that is now for grab is the modern day version of land to the people of this Territory…It is technology, but it is modern day land.”
In making his comment on the matter, Hon. Fahie advised the Chairman of the TRC, Michael Thomas to approach the matter with caution: “I want the Chairman of the TRC to understand clearly not to be bullied into anything that will cost taxpayers money from the Commission being sued.”
“Madame Speaker I am 100 percent for my local people. I have never hidden that, but we operate in the country by laws; and if we’re going to operate it by jungle rules remember that today’s hunter is tomorrow’s hunted…Heed some of what I am here saying. If you want to help the local company let us bring a clear policy to ensure that we avoid any possible lawsuits. I say that clear, I don’t hide that because if we want to do things round the bend, and we create an unfair advantage, we have to understand that we are operating with laws it is as simple as that,” the First District Representative stated.
UNRELIABLE INTERNET IS REALLY DISGUSTING
Third District Representative, and Opposition Member, Hon. Julian Fraser announced that the sometimes frustrating and unreliable nature of the internet service is not good for tourism: “I have heard businesses complaining that their guests come here, they get on the internet and every 10, or 15 minutes it drops. It happens to me, but I can just suck my teeth; and kind of like shake it off. When people are coming to your Territory and these things are happening to them, they tell their friends…And there is no reason, we can’t have better service, there is no reason.”
Business people told this newspaper that local internet users have to live with the net blues 24/7 and the untouchable telecom gets away with murder…and high fees and charges.
TALKING TO GHOSTS
One of the things Hon. Fraser mentioned was his need to see a system where customers get reimbursed for non-service: “One of the things I want to see happen here is that when I need service or any customer needs service they are credited for each day that they have lost their service…That they are credited for that. It happens in other parts of the world and it can happen here.”
“There is no reason to be out of service Monday, you make a phone call and they tell you– give me your number, and someone will get in touch with you. That someone may not get in touch with you for three days; but when the bill comes this is your bill for the whole month. We need to stop accepting subpar service for anything whether it is water, electricity or telecommunications, all of the services,” Hon. Fraser said.
TRC ROYALTIES & CABLE TV
Hon. Fraser raised the question of whether the TRC was up to date with its royalty collection. While querying, Hon. Fraser said: “I am willing to bet that the accounts on royalty are not up to date; and it has less to do with the companies. It has to do with the TRC’s ability to monitor.”
“From the time I have been here, these last three years I haven’t seen us (Legislators) ask for information coming from the TRC; but that is something that we have to do. What happened to the royalties, where are the revenues that you have collected; and when are you going to pay some into central government. Those kinds of things have to be looked at. We can’t allow these telecom companies to run the show,” the Third District Representative said.
A number of points were raised during the debate about the lone cable service provider—BVI Cable TV. The points included mention that the company was being sold, reports of bad service; and questions as to why the company never ventured in internet service.
Hon. Fraser said: “We have a situation with Cable TV, I think I understood that it is up for sale because the lending company has decided — well enough is enough; and they want their money. What is going to happen with that?”
In reference to possible internet service provision, Hon. Fraser touched where it hurts real bad: “It is high time Cable TV becomes one of our internet providers, somebody ought to twist their wrist, bend their arm; and make sure they get into internet service. It is the most natural of the four networks to provide internet service into the homes, it has the wires all ready….Here we are under the clutches of a monopoly to provide internet services.”
“I know the mobile companies are providing some form of internet service, but it can’t compare to what LIME does, and I am sure that the local Cable TV company can do a better job. They are doing it in St Thomas why can’t they do it here. It’s all a matter of leaning on them somewhat. Somebody has to lean on them. You can’t rely on instructions coming from the Ministry, you have to take initiative. We can get there, when we will get there, I am not sure. There isn’t much,” Hon. Fraser added.
Hon. Fahie also touched on the cable service: “The cable—some persons complain about how much is being paid for cable versus how many channels and even how many of them are on.”
Some citizens feel that the days of traditional television are counted and the internet will put an end to the disservice and brainwashing propaganda and nonsensical advertising in a surgical way.