Cayman’s telecommunications regulator is reviewing licensing for businesses that operate WiFi “hot spots” to determine which businesses, if any, should have to pay government fees.
The topic was raised earlier this year following a notice from OfReg, Cayman’s newly formed utilities and commodities regulator, which indicated that a number of businesses charging customers to use their wireless internet service should be paying licensing fees to government.
“There are currently no WiFi hot spot providers licensed by the office to offer such service within the Cayman Islands,” the notice issued in February states.
Government ICT officials told the Cayman Compass in May that at least nine companies were “illegally” charging customers for wireless internet access.
However, OfReg has not taken any enforcement action since then and has acknowledged that current rules set out under Cayman’s Information and Communications Technology Law may not reflect “reality and the rapidly changing landscape of technology.”
Alee Fa’amoe, OfReg’s executive director for information and communications technology [abbreviated as ICT], said the most recent enforcement notice issued under the law dates to 2011.
It states: “The authority has … determined that all ICT services that use an ICT network to provide services to the public, whether or not for a fee or for commercial profit, are required to be licensed …”
Strictly interpreted, this notice seems to require that every business providing WiFi to its customers would have to pay for a license.
If that interpretation were to be adopted, it would mean that every corner coffee shop that now provides free WiFi for customers would have to pay for a licensing fee. Hotels that provide internet access, whether or not for free, would have to have a license.
The OfReg notice issued in February states: “If you are providing or reselling an ICT service without a license, you should stop immediately.” However, the OfReg notice at the time applied only to those businesses that were charging customers for the service.
The WiFi provider will not be licensed in the same way large telecommunications companies, such as FLOW and Digicel, are licensed. Rather, Mr. Fa’amoe said, it would operate similar to the noncommercial use of radio waves.
“While WiFi has traditionally been used for private, noncommercial uses, there are potential commercial applications for WiFi, and the office is considering how we might offer licenses which would actually encourage that kind of entrepreneurial use of the technology,” Mr. Fa’amoe said. “We would envision that kind of license attracting a low fee, certainly nothing approaching the kind of fees which a traditional [telecom] license would attract.”
Mr. Fa’amoe said OfReg will provide clarity on the issue for business owners and customers “very shortly.”