Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service has been increasingly popular with a variety of businesses and everyday individuals out there eager to save a few dollars when it comes to the long-distance bill. To that end, a great many providers of such services have also shown up, eager to offer services and keep people connected for impressively low sums. But that drive toward increased VoIP isn't being felt everywhere, as down in the Bahamas, regulators are eying the process, and not liking what's being seen.
Following the recent conclusion of the 30th annual Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations (CANTO) meeting, it became clear that VoIP was indeed making inroads, and that in some ways, it represented a clear threat to the continued operations of telecommunications firms in the region. Services like Skype (News - Alert), Viber and others are allowing users to connect over the Internet, making calls around the world with few, if any, charges.
Sounds great for the everyday user, but for telecommunications firms it's a disaster in the making. Indeed, communications firm Digicel (News - Alert) recently blocked several such VoIP providers from operating on its network, noting that the VoIP providers use local communications infrastructure, yet contribute nothing to its overall operation.
PJ Mara, who serves as Digicel's board director, offered up a bit of commentary on just what was being seen, saying, “With this [VoIP] arrangement, operators and the local governments lose. We are not opposed to all VoIPs, some like Facebook (News - Alert) have a legitimate business model. However, we cannot have predatory providers draining local revenue for the benefit of venture capital firms away on Wall Street. Normally, a foreign provider pays termination fees to the destination provider for the use of the network, and from that we would pay taxes to the government. These VoIPs pay nothing. It is pure bypass.”
This is not a sentiment that was immediately lost on regulators, particularly the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) in the Bahamas. The director of policy and regulations for same, Steven Bereaux, noted that URCA would be taking “a balanced approach” in its consideration of VoIP, and further noted that the issue would likely be extremely important very soon. Yet even the regulators urge a note of caution here, noting that, not so long ago, mobile technology itself was disruptive, and once, the Bahamas Telecommunication Company (BTC) actually released a VoIP product of its own as what it described as “an alternate to predatory services.”
One thing is clear: users are going to want to save as much money as possible on communications services, while still getting the level of service desired, so that said money can be spent in other ways. VoIP has particular appeal on this front as a means to save, but the regulators and telecom firms in the region have a vested interest in maintaining revenue from services so that the network can continue to be offered. That's a balancing act that requires regulation to really work around, so some kind of compromise is likely to take place in the near term future.
Just what the terms of such an arrangement would be, but VoIP represents a comparatively new idea for a lot of users out there; put the power of the Internet to work to connect users regardless of location. That can be a problem, however, so seeing just how CANTO et al take care of this issue should be something to see.
Edited by Alisen Downey