Wednesday, April 14, 2004

T&T: TSTT can't stand the jammin'

International calling centres around the country have been given an ultimatum by the Regulated Industries Commission to either shut their doors within one week, or face a fine of up to $300,000.

Failing to do so, each call centre will have to pay $60,000 for every day they continue to operate.

The calling centres have been providing cheaper international calling rates over the last two years, much to TSTT’s dismay.

However, the RIC has stepped in, notifying the call centres via letter that they must cease their Voice Over Internet Protocol service within seven days of receiving the letter, or answer to the RIC.

The letter said the call centres had violated Sections 4 (1) and 45 of the T&T Telephone Act Chapter 47.30 and Sections 37 (1) and 66 of the RIC Act No 26 of 1998.

The call centres have the option of applying for a licence.

Then again, this is not definite and can take up to to 60 days before permission is granted.

Call centre owners can apply for the licence through the Minister of Public Utilties, who then seeks the advice of the RIC.

The RIC has 60 days to make its recommendations, but the Minister is not bound to accept the commission’s advice.

However, there are differing views on whether the RIC has jurisdiction in this matter.
Defending the calling centres, [Director of Telecom, Winston] Ragbir said: “There are no laws or regulations governing international calling centres under the new Telecom Act.”

He said TSTT had been getting more than 15 per cent rate of return for the past 10 years and that the company should begin refunding consumers.

Selby Wilson, former secretary general of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisation said the RIC had the authority for the time being until the Telecom Act was fully implemented.
I don’t see why they (calling centres) should be debarred at this point in time, if they want to liberalise the telecom sector,” he said.

Felipe Noguera, CEO of CCTT said until the Telecommunications Act was formally constituted, the questions remain as to who were in charge.

However, he said if the calling centres were shut down the public would have no choice but to withstand TSTT and “hope and pray that out of the goodness of their heart they will lower their rates.”
This is a farce, the purpose of which is the preservation of TSTT's oppressive monopoly of international calling. If TSTT cannot find ways to be competitive with calling centers, then perhaps they ought to go out of business. Ending competition is not the way to serve the public interest. The law of the market place is the survival of the fittest, and it is not in government's interest to preserve a monopoly in any sphere of business. Why should the consumer be at the mercy of an entity that has been unfairly profiting from overly high rates? Once competition has been removed from the marketplace, TSTT has no incentive whatsoever to reduce rates. Hopefully, some activist will bring a lawsuit against TSTT and the no-nothings who are ignorant of who really has "controlling legal authority" in T&T's telecom industry.


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