The Utility Regulation and Competition Office has signed a memorandum of understanding with U.K. researcher SamKnows to study local internet speeds, OfReg telecommunications regulator Alee Fa’amoe told the Public Accounts Committee Wednesday.
Mr. Fa’amoe was speaking in response to concerns expressed by PAC members about apparent discrepancies in internet speeds and costs throughout Grand Cayman. According to MLA Chris Saunders, he’s paying more than $120 for 15 million bits of data per second (Mbps) – speeds he said he rarely actually gets – while others are only paying $69 for the same service.
Mr. Saunders repeatedly asked what party should be “flogged” for these and other alleged shortfalls of the telecommunications market.
Mr. Fa’amoe said that OfReg’s agreement with SamKnows will entail the company analyzing local internet speeds to find out whether customers are really getting what they pay for.
“It’s through that kind of mechanism that we anticipate to hold our licensees accountable for the quality of service they’re delivering to the customer,” he said.
The regulator did not say how much this service will cost, or when an agreement will be finalized with SamKnows, which has conducted tests in the U.K., U.S., Europe, and Singapore, according to its website.
Much of Wednesday’s discussions also focused on government’s recently announced plans to have the public sector build out its own fiber-optic cable network in the underserved eastern districts and make the telecom companies pay for it. This plan was announced by Premier Alden McLaughlin in March due to the telecom companies’ failures to provide broadband internet to much of the eastern part of Grand Cayman.
Mr. Fa’amoe shed more light on the plan to build a public fiber network in that area.
He said that the telecom providers would be required to build their fiber networks eastward from town to a “meet me point,” which would likely be in the Bodden Town area. From there, a public fiber network would extend into the rest of the eastern districts. If a telecom company wants to provide service to a home in that area, it would simply have to connect the home to the curbside of the public fiber network.
However, Mr. Fa’amoe did not say how much the network will cost or how it will be built. OfReg has stated in the past that it will announce by October whether it will indeed be building out its own network.
C3 owner Randy Merren also spoke at the PAC meeting, saying that he supports government’s efforts to implement broadband islandwide.
“We support whatever can be done to get to [the] eastern districts as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr. Merren also spoke to the difficulties his company and other telecom providers have experienced in expanding their fiber networks. According to Mr. Merren, the biggest obstacle has been the high costs in preparing the telephone poles to have fiber hung from them.
To prepare the poles for fiber, Caribbean Utilities Company subsidiary DataLink – the entity in charge of the poles – has to conduct a safety evaluation, which includes CUC linesmen making sure there is adequate space between the fiber cables and the electrical devices on the poles.
CUC/Datalink has estimated this process to cost around $900 per pole, but the telecom companies have said that price is much too high. According to Mr. Saunders, Cable & Wireless has estimated that it should only cost a little more than $400 per pole.
“Regulators need to get a grasp on cost of make-ready [for the poles],” Mr. Merren said. “Once that’s done, I think you’ll find us building out as fast as we can – if the poles are clear.”
When Mr. Saunders asked Mr. Merren what entity should be “flogged” for the poor internet quality in some areas, Mr. Merren named OfReg.
“I would start with the regulator. I just don’t have a lot of faith that the regulator is being as hard as he can on these guys,” he said.