Universal broadband absent from OfReg’s 2019 plan

The Utility Regulation and Competition Office, known as OfReg, had big plans last year to improve the territory’s internet services.

In March 2018, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced government’s intention to have OfReg build its own fibre-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.

OfReg stated the same month that it has been formulating plans for implementing universal broadband internet in Cayman, and that it hoped to make a determination on the issue by September 2018.

However, plans for implementing universal broadband are absent in OfReg’s 2019 annual plan, published earlier this month.

Instead, OfReg’s plan states that the regulator is aiming to set minimum standards for broadband service – what mandatory internet speeds should be offered by telecommunications companies, and by when those speeds should be available.

OfReg has budgeted $342,295 to help fund this exercise.

When McLaughlin initially announced the plans for OfReg to build its own fibre-optic cable network more than a year ago, OfReg launched a consultation with the telecommunications industry – a legal requirement for the regulator to undertake before it makes any determination on what actions it will take.

During the consultation, 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.

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.

Last November, legislators asked OfReg officials why they are not forcing telecommunications companies to provide broadband to the territory’s underserved areas, given that the companies have committed to providing such services in their licensing agreements.

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 penalise them for that.

Gregg Anderson, who was OfReg’s acting CEO at the time, responded that it is a licensing requirement for the companies to build fibre 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 at the time.

“We can impose sanctions and fines, or we can take into account these breaches and leverage that to [chart] a path forward.”

OfReg told the Compass last November that they are discussing the issue and will make a statement once details are finalised, but acting CEO Alee Fa’amoe did not respond to inquiries this week about the current status of the consultation process.

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