Interview:  Cynthia Reddock-Downes

How pressing is the need for regulating over-the-top (OTT) service providers in T&T?

CYNTHIA REDDOCK-DOWNES: The proliferation of OTT services provides an opportunity for consumers and operators alike. For regulators, determining what form regulation should take is the most crucial issue. Our responsibility is to encourage innovation while ensuring a level playing field. OTT services compete directly with traditional telecommunications and broadcasting services in voice, video and media. Our aim is to find solutions which will benefit both consumers and operators and the development of the T&T economy as a whole. TATT has completed a draft consultation document on OTT services and we have also convened a public discussion; an ICT open forum on OTT. The OTT consultation is expected to be completed by he autumn of 2016, after which we expect to produce a framework which will include data and cybersecurity protections as well as procedures for authorisation where applicable.

OTT services have affected the regulatory environments of most countries. We are aware of recent developments in the EU, Singapore and India and we are monitoring proposals to the International Telecommunication Union from the African, Latin American and Caribbean regional bodies. Going forward, we have seen that, in some countries, telecommunications companies have developed their own OTT services. This may also be a way forward for our own providers to compete in the OTT market.

To what extent is the growth of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology in T&T affecting the revenue streams of telecoms operators?

REDDOCK-DOWNES: There have been several predictions regarding the significant impact of VoIP on global telecommunications and broadcasting operator revenues. In T&T many argue that this reduction in international and domestic voice revenues may be offset by the increasing use of data resulting in increased data revenues. Although we have seen a significant rise in these earnings in 2015, operators who have invested in voice infrastructure would have done so expecting to also see increases in these revenues. So far, international voice revenues have had more significant reductions when compared to domestic voice revenues. The market has also seen reductions in the price of international voice calls, which may be a response to the competition. Many argue that operators should adapt to these changing circumstances. As a regulator we can accept this, as long as we ensure that there is a level playing field.

What is the timeframe for deploying a national broadband backbone in the country?

REDDOCK-DOWNES: We have identified the need for a national broadband backbone, together with the creation of a second subsea landing station over two years ago. The government has initiated a project with the World Bank to implement these projects using public-private partnerships. The initial feasibility report has been completed and the second stage is awaiting approvals and funding. Additionally, our government has identified the need for universal Wi-Fi as another approach to achieving broadband coverage. We have jointly embarked on a project to implement hotspots at several locations in T&T including transport hubs, hospitals and health centres, to provide free services to the public. This phase of the project is expected to be completed before the end of 2016.

How are international investors likely to impact the region’s competitive landscape?

REDDOCK-DOWNES: The Caribbean region has always attracted international investors in telecommunications. Market consolidation is significant for any regulator since our major responsibilities include consumer protection and ensuring a quality service.