Cayman’s telecom regulator now has the power to require phone and Internet companies to pay into a fund for universal service to ensure access for people and businesses in the Sister Islands and the eastern districts.
Five years after the Information and Communications Technology Authority Law’s most recent revision passed, the section for universal service commenced this month. This section of the law gives the authority the ability to set up the “Universal Service Fund” and can require telecoms to provide phone service with free calls to emergency services and free Internet access for schools and health facilities.
Responding to questions by email, ICTA Managing Director Alee Fa’amoe said, “The term ‘universal service’ is widely used in the regulated telecommunications space to refer to a set of basic services all citizens should be able to access.
“Where service providers, operating in a competitive marketplace, are either unable or unwilling to offer their services [such as in rural or lightly populated areas], a universal service obligation would mean that customers in those areas would still have access to services. Sometimes, these services are provided by one shared network, which may or may not be one of the competitive licensed service providers,” he continued.
Mr. Fa’amoe said they are still figuring out how the fee will be collected. He said, “To fund costs associated with emergency communications, some countries have instituted a small charge per month per telephone number. In other cases, licensees pay an interconnection fee to access a network setup for Universal Service and those fees help pay for the network.
“In some cases, a Universal Service Fund is set up to pay for either the network itself, or service delivery to remote areas, or both.”
Mr. Fa’amoe said the authority will work with telecoms companies to figure out how universal service concepts could be used to deliver choice to customers in the eastern districts of Grand Cayman and in the Sister Islands.
Antonia Graham, with Digicel, said, “We are assessing our position while seeking guidance from the regulator as to the objective of the fund and a proposal on how it will be raised and administered.”
Mr. Fa’amoe said customers on the Sister Islands and in Grand Cayman’s eastern districts “are still waiting on a choice of service providers.
“It’s taken over a decade for service providers to extend their networks beyond just a few miles out of George Town,” he said.