At least two Internet companies in the Cayman Islands are now preventing customers from streaming movies, television and other content not licensed for broadcasting in the Cayman Islands.
Both FLOW and C3 have confirmed that where possible they are blocking pirated content from entering the territory on their networks. Cayman’s other main Internet service provider Logic did not respond to questions on the issue.
Though there are still no up-to-date copyright laws in force in the territory, FLOW says it has a “legal obligation” to protect the rights of copyright owners. C3 said it was following an international trend with providers around the world, including Netflix, pursuing a similar strategy to prevent unauthorized use of licensed content.
The Information and Communications Technology Authority said it was investigating the implications of the move.
“Any time a telecommunications service provider decides to interfere with the services provided to their customers, such as blocking certain websites, or certain content, it raises concerns about privacy, extra-legal censorship, and other issues,” said ICTA managing director Alee Fa’Amoe
“The Authority is reviewing the actions of its licensees with respect to unilateral blocking of certain traffic, and will consider if any actions are warranted once all the facts are available.”
It is understood that the move has principally impacted Cayman Islands residents using Roku or android boxes. The devices, similar to Apple TV set-top boxes, use Web apps to allow users to stream television channels and other content from all over the world.
Denise Williams, senior vice president of communications with Flow’s parent company Cable & Wireless Communications, declined to reveal how the company was blocking content, but insisted it was not snooping on its customers’ Internet use.
She said, regardless of Cayman law, the company has an obligation under U.S. law to ensure compliance with telecommunications licenses.
She said it was taking similar action across the Caribbean after several requests to its U.S. operation from copyright holders requesting it to stop illegal content being accessed through its network.
“Content that is not cleared for the region is therefore being blocked from entering the region by our team in the United States,” she said.
“We wish to reiterate that C&W does not monitor what our customers access on the Internet, nor do we know what they are watching. We are simply preventing illegal content from entering the region on our network.”
A spokesman for C3 confirmed it was using the same strategy.
“As a licensed content provider, C3 is obligated by the content owners to mitigate any unauthorized use of the content we are legally providing in the market. To this end, we are blocking the IP addresses of these pirated content providers. C3 will remain vigilant in blocking future IP addresses conducting these pirate activities.”
The extent to which the companies have been able to disrupt users from pirating content is not clear.
Sandra Hill, a businesswoman who runs RoCay, which sells Roku streaming boxes to consumers, said some customers had been impacted. She said some were switching Internet service providers as a result of the move.
Ms. Hill said she was disappointed at the “tactic,” which she believes is designed to limit consumer choice and force more people to buy FLOW TV.
“In the final analysis, they are losing customers who do not trust them with their Internet and have online privacy concerns,” she said.
Ms. Hill also questioned whether FLOW, as an Internet service provider, had the authority to police copyright in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Fa’Amoe said the ICTA would be pondering the implications of the actions.
“In other countries, these kinds of issues have been explored in great detail and, as a result, concepts around net neutrality have emerged,” he said.
He told the Cayman Compass in an earlier interview that the rights of companies to protect their copyright had to be balanced with the rights of consumers.
“As a democracy, we need to balance the rights of a copyright holder with the privacy rights of our citizens. Just because you own a copyright doesn’t necessarily give you or a law enforcement body the right to monitor the Web surfing activity of Internet customers, who have some expectation of privacy.”
He said he was generally unconcerned about people using Roku boxes or other technology to stream copyrighted content. He said they were not breaking any Cayman Islands law that he was aware of and formed a small part of the market.
“None of our television providers in Cayman,” he said, “entered the TV space blindly or without the full knowledge that there were already alternatives available here in this market, whether from satellite dish providers or Internet streaming boxes like AppleTV or Roku.
“The bottom line is that disruption is nothing new. So, if you’re a telecom service provider anywhere in the world, including Cayman, my advice is – accept that disruption is an integral part of your industry. Improve your own network and services and compete to win your customers’ business.”
He said the ICTA would not be the body enforcing copyright legislation, if and when it is passed. And he insisted the regulator was more focused on ensuring its licensees maintained a higher level of service.
“Our ability to compete as a global financial center and a regional tourism destination will not be determined by a few local companies offering streaming video boxes. It will, however, be radically impacted by poor telecom service or high prices or the lack of choice.
“We have lost millions of dollars of inward investment because of our lack of high-quality telecom infrastructure. To date, I’m not aware of any multimillion dollar deals failing to close because of a local streaming set-top box couldn’t deliver the latest episode of the ‘Voice.’ The ICTA, the local ICT industry, and the entire jurisdiction have bigger fish to fry.”