Premier: No government support for new WiFi licensing/fees

Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said Thursday that his coalition government would not support any effort to charge licensing fees to businesses that provide wireless internet access to customers on their premises.

The issue has been raised publicly a number of times since February, when OfReg, Cayman’s newly formed utilities and commodities regulator, indicated that a number of businesses charging customers to use their wireless internet service should be paying licensing fees to government.

Government officials told the Cayman Compass in May that at least nine companies were “illegally” charging customers for WiFi access.

“There are currently no WiFi hot spot providers licensed by the office to offer such service within the Cayman Islands,” the OfReg notice issued in February stated.

Mr. McLaughlin said Thursday that he was not familiar with the technical specifics, but that the Progressives-led coalition would not approve what amounts to a new business operating fee.

“We campaigned on reducing bureaucracy and to reduce the cost of doing business in this country,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “This proposal runs completely counter to the government’s policy.

“The imposition of fees and taxes are a matter for the Cabinet of these islands, regardless of whether it is Cayman Airways or OfReg or the Water Authority.”

Strictly speaking, OfReg (which now encompasses the former Information and Communications Technology Authority) has been allowed to charge licensing fees for businesses that provide WiFi at their premises since at least 2011.

An enforcement notice under the ICTA Law dating from 2011 reads: “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 ….”

The 2011 notice, the most recent issued under the law, seems to require that every business providing WiFi to their customers would have to pay for a license.

However, OfReg has not taken any enforcement action under the section and has more recently acknowledged that current rules set out under Cayman’s ICTA Law may not reflect “reality and the rapidly changing landscape of technology.”

The OfReg statement issued in February notes: “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 would not be licensed in the same way large telecommunications companies, such as FLOW and Digicel, are licensed. Rather, OfReg Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alee Fa’amoe said the process 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.”

Premier McLaughlin said Thursday that is not going to happen.

“We are not going to impose, nor are we going to countenance, the imposition of new fees or taxes … with respect to business,” he said. “In fact we are pushing hard to go the other way.”

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