New rules coming in January
The Cayman Islands is losing millions of dollars in investment because of inadequate telecoms infrastructure, regulators have warned.
The Information Communications and Technology Authority is recommending that Internet service providers face fines if they fail to provide the quality and speed of service they are advertising to customers.
The ICTA has been inundated with complaints from customers who say they are not getting the Internet speeds they have paid for.
Alee Fa’Amoe, managing director of the authority, said there were also more general concerns about quality and reliability of Internet services, as well as the failure of licensees to roll-out new telecoms infrastructure across the island. He believes lack of confidence in the island’s telecoms infrastructure is preventing certain types of business from setting up shop in Cayman.
He said ICTA was particularly concerned about complaints from business customers, including a Class A bank and a health service facility, about Internet services.
He said the range of complaints, from customers on a number of networks, indicated there were multiple problems at play.
He said the country’s ability to compete as a global financial center and tourism destination risked being impacted by poor service, high prices or lack of choice.
“The fact that Cayman has to turn away investors who would like to move their companies here but who can’t because the quality of our Internet services is simply not good enough is very disturbing.
“We have lost millions of dollars of inward investment because of our lack of high-quality telecom infrastructure.”
Kurt Tibbetts, minister for infrastructure, confirmed in a speech to the Legislative Assembly last week that legislative amendments would come before the House in January.
Several legislators spoke last week about concerns from constituents who were not getting the Internet speeds they had paid for. Mr. Tibbetts said the amended legislation would empower ICTA to impose fines when Internet speeds fall below a certain percentage of the speed paid for. Many providers sell packages that offer speeds of “up to” a certain number of megabits per second, meaning they are not necessarily offering that top speed at all times. Mr. Tibbetts suggested they should at least be obliged to provide speeds within a reasonable range of the contracted rate.
Mr. Fa’Amoe said, “I don’t think it is unreasonable for a customer to expect to receive what they’re paying for from a service provider.
“So, when a customer has contracted from a local Internet service provider for, say, 5Mb Internet speeds, and they get 1Mb, they can become understandably upset, especially if this is a trend and happens often.”
Cable & Wireless, trading as Flow, Digicel, WestStar, WestTel, trading as Logic, Infinity Broadband, trading as C3, and the Cayman Islands government are listed as holding current licenses as Internet service providers in the Cayman Islands.
The local providers have previously highlighted infrastructure issues beyond their control as part of the problem.
A Netflix server might be somewhere in Mexico or Florida, but not in Cayman. Home connections have to go through what’s known as “the pipe,” a network of undersea cables connecting the islands to the mainland.
At peak times, when hundreds of thousands of customers may be logging on, speeds can be impacted by a bottleneck in the pipe.
Julie Hutton, with FLOW, told the Cayman Compass in an earlier interview, “Actual connect speeds depend on the … server and link capacity at any given time of the day. Evening in the U.S. and Caribbean could prove to be busy and congested times for these companies, but we would expect them to dimension capacity accordingly.”
Mr. Fa’Amoe says ICTA is less concerned about micromanaging the providers and their business but more interested in making sure customers get what they are paying for.
Despite the number of companies now operating, he believes the liberalization of the market has not led to better services, with localized monopolies operating in some areas.
ICTA will also move, in the new year, to enforce stricter regulations around portability – the ease with which consumers can move from one provider to another.
Too often, he said, customers were tied into contracts that punished them economically for taking their business elsewhere if they were not satisfied with the service.
“If you’re not happy, you often can’t go to another service provider because you are locked into a contract or there simply isn’t another provider in your area. We need to change that.”
Alongside the proposed changes to the law and regulations, ICTA is working behind the scenes to resolve commercial disputes over access to power lines and underground infrastructure that are currently delaying efforts to roll out fiber optic cables, which enable higher Internet speeds, island wide.
Mr. Fa’Amoe said the regulator typically took a “light touch” approach, believing that the competitive market was the best avenue to better services. But in this case, he said, the market had failed and ICTA was compelled to act in the public interest.
“We are not seeing services get better, we are not seeing customers able to move from provider to provider and we are not seeing the underlying infrastructure built out to make choice available all over the island.”