OfReg tight-lipped on universal broadband plan

In March, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced government’s intention to have the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) build its own fiber-optic cable network in the underserved eastern districts, something he said was necessary given the telecommunications companies’ failure to provide broadband internet services in those areas.

Shortly after that announcement, OfReg stated in a press release that it “has been formulating a plan and considering timelines for the installation of the [universal service network] accordingly,” and that it expects to make a final determination on this issue by the end of September.

However, OfReg has been tight-lipped on the matter since then. When asked by legislators on Thursday last week at a Finance Committee meeting about providing islandwide broadband, the regulator’s co-acting CEO Gregg Anderson did not mention any plans of building its own fiber network.

Mr. Anderson said OfReg is looking at a “number of approaches to facilitate the high-level goal of making sure eastern districts and Sister Islands have competition and choice.”

Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller asked whether the telecommunications companies are breaching their licenses by not building out to the entire island, and if so, whether OfReg will penalize them for that.

Mr. Anderson responded that it is a licensing requirement for the companies to build fiber networks to the entire island – all the companies besides Flow have that requirement – but that OfReg is looking to explore more productive alternatives.

“What we’re focusing on is how to remedy those breaches in light of what we want to accomplish,” he said. “We can impose sanctions and fines, or we can take into account these breaches and leverage that to [chart] a path forward.”

Mr. Anderson and OfReg’s other co-CEO, Duke Munroe, told the Compass on Thursday that they are discussing the issue and will make a statement once details are finalized.

“In the meantime, note that OfReg’s mandate to push to ensure all consumers have (feasible) access to Broadband remains,” Mr. Munroe said.

Part of OfReg’s process is to undergo a consultation with telecom companies to determine what mandatory internet speeds should be offered by the companies and by when those speeds should be available.

When the initial consultation was launched in March, OfReg proposed to force all telecoms companies to offer broadband internet access services to all residents of the Cayman Islands, with at least one of their broadband service plans offering an unlimited data allowance. The regulator’s proposed definition for “broadband” is download speeds of 100 million bits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 50 Mbps or higher.

OfReg proposed to set a three-year timeline for telecoms companies to meet these requirements.

OfReg stated in March that it hoped to make a determination from the consultation by the end of September.

But the responses from the telecoms companies to the regulator’s proposals were highly critical – for instance, the companies stated that the speeds OfReg wants to mandate are much faster than those mandated in other developed countries – and OfReg has yet to issue any determinations.