Internet companies that fail to provide customers with the speed of service they are paying for could be investigated by regulators.
The Information Communications and Technology Authority highlighted dealing with issues around speed and quality of Internet service among its top priorities for the coming year.
Managing director Alee Fa’amoe said the authority had a responsibility to ensure customers got what they were paying for.
His comments follow widespread complaints, which reached the Legislative Assembly late last year, that consumers were frequently finding they were not getting the Internet speeds they had signed up for. Several consumers, who complained to MLAs or to the ICTA, said they had paid for up to 10MB and were, at times, only getting 1 MB.
The connection speed impacts what services both business and residential customers can access, from downloading and streaming movies, to running conference calls with overseas clients.
Mr. Fa’amoe said, “The current thinking is that, as a rule of thumb, any broadband service which falls below 80 percent of what the provider has contracted with the customer to provide is grounds for a complaint to the licensee and the ICTA, possibly followed up with an investigation, depending on what steps are taken by the provider to fix the problem.”
He said licensees that did not comply could face fines or imprisonment.
Mr. Fa’amoe said ICTA would also bring in an overseas company to measure broadband connectivity around the island and would publish the findings of those tests on its website.
The authority is also concerned about a lack of choice in the eastern districts and on the sister islands when it comes to high-speed Internet.
Competing companies may be required to collaborate through a “universal service” to ensure fiber optic cables – the fastest and most reliable telecommunications infrastructure – is available across all three islands.
Currently every company licensed by ICTA has an obligation to provide high-speed Internet across the territory.
Mr. Fa’amoe said this approach was not working well.
“The truth is there isn’t too much choice across the islands at present, especially for customers in the eastern districts of Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands,” he said.
“Where the telecoms providers cannot meet the obligations they have under the terms of their licenses to take service to the outer districts and the Sister Islands, the ICTA has to consider other options that will finally deliver the promise of a liberalized telecommunications marketplace and give customers more choices.”
He said Universal Service, which in the U.S. involves a centralized fund to ensure access to telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas, was being considered for Cayman.
“What we are considering instead of individual license rollout obligations is the concept of a Universal Service which would provide citizens with potentially a menu of services, from any and all providers, no matter where they live in the country,” Mr. Fa’amoe said.
Upgrading the 911 system is another priority for the ICTA, according to Mr. Fa’amoe.
On several occasions in the past two years, connection failures have prevented 911 calls from getting through.
Mr. Fa’amoe, who has previously expressed concern about a lack of redundancy in the system for emergency calls, said the ICTA was now going out to tender on a “major overhaul” of the entire 911 structure.
He said, “The existing 911 setup consists of a database and a telephone system but the telephone system component is obsolete.
“Spare parts are hard to source and we can’t easily repair it if it should ever fail. We also can’t upgrade it to accommodate newer technologies.
“Once the project is completed, the 911 system will be more reliable first and foremost, and much more user-friendly for first responders, 911 employees and 911 callers alike.”