Jamaica phone rates likely going higher

KINGSTON, Jamaica – An ongoing feud between the nation’s two major telecommunications firms, Digicel and LIME, could lead to consumers being slapped with increased phone rates in the long term, according to the country manager for one of the companies.

Geoff Houston, country manager for LIME in Jamaica, told The Gleaner yesterday that if the feud worsens, it could also lead to restrictions on calls to other networks.

Houston said phone customers are being affected because the cost to call Digicel network from LIME lines are artificially high. “In the long term, this could also force up pricing,” Houston added.

Injunction against Digicel

Houston’s comments came hours before LIME obtained an injunction against Digicel, restraining the firm from disrupting, decommissioning or otherwise interfering with the interconnectivity between the parties.

The order is for 28 days and the matter will be considered by the Supreme Court on February 3.

In a statement on Wednesday, LIME, which up to 2000 enjoyed monopoly of the Jamaican market, claimed that Digicel, the current leader in the cellular subsector, blocked calls from LIME customers throughout the region.

However, Digicel countered, claiming instead that its customers were being blocked.

During a press conference yesterday Camille Facey, LIME’s vice-president for legal, regulatory and corporate affairs, said there was evidence of anti-competitive behaviour with the hiking of Digicel charges for its customers calling Claro or LIME lines.

While refusing to give details, Facey said LIME would be seeking damages for a disruption on December 19, as well as the current issue.

Outrageous claim

However, Helga McIntyre, legal and regulatory manager at Digicel, said the recent development came as a surprise.

“This is an outrageous claim,” she told The Gleaner yesterday. “We have not got any feedback from the regulator that we have done anything wrong.”

David Geddes, communications point man at the Office of Utilities Regulation, said the fact that LIME was taking the matter to court meant there was nothing the regulators could do at this time.

Digicel has approximately 1.9 million subscribers, followed by LIME with some 660,000. Cash-rich Claro, which rebranded from Miphone in October 2008, is trailing with 220,000.