To chastise Digicel for their anti-consumer decision. To declare their stance on net Neutrality. To add an amendment to the OUR Act which implements Net Neutrality similar to that of The Netherlands.
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According to Wikipedia, net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.
This week however in a blatant attack on our civil liberties as ascribed to us by the by our Government and the United Nations and I quote
“We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva from 10–12 December 2003 for the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers."
This right was deliberately tampered with when DIGICEL, one of the big three providers of telecommunications in the Caribbean announced on the 28th of June, 2014, that they will be banning applications like Viber and Nimbuzz from accessing their network due to these applications taking up too much bandwidth and not paying the network for requisite access.
The telecommunications giant’s press release is riddled with very provocative language such as “unauthorized VOIP services” and ill thought out arguments such as these services are “putting enormous pressures on bandwidth – and customers’ data usage experience being negatively impacted as a result – the company has been forced to take firm action.” Leading people to believe that the second largest telecommunications network in the Caribbean cannot handle the very task it has people paying for in the first place; to talk over their network. And that is also an issue every
Jamaican should then be very concerned about, the fact that we pay for theseapplications by subscribing to DIGICEL’s data packages, which allow the users access to the internet and mobile based services which and applications which are authorized by their respective application download portal be it Google Play Store, the Apple App Store, or even the BlackBerry World app store, these applications were developed, scrutinized by the respective platforms they were developed for and AUTHORIZED for download by the public. Our defense should never be for a corporation like viber who makes millions a year off of their service and can afford to succumb to DIGICEL’s demands, but rather it is about defending our right to utilize the data we pay for any way we see fit. We are not China or North Korea whose liberties can be taken away at the whim of a dictator. We are Jamaicans, the rights that great Jamaicans such as Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey have died to give us are being trampled on not by our government ( not yet at least), but by fellow citizens and foreign nationals given leave to do business in our country, by our government, and have abused our fellow Jamaicans and our rights. We must not let this come to pass.
The fact is even if this were not a civil liberty issue, the question of innovation and Investments will be severely affected as pointed out by one key caribbean investor JJ Gewax at states in a recent blog post “To put simply; I won't be able to reasonably invest in tech companies targeting Jamaica. As an investor in 10 Pound Pledge, I have to face the very real possibility of losing Caribbean customers based on an ISP not willing to deliver high-quality video content. As an investor in EduFocal, I have to face the very real possibility that educational videos won't be delivered to customers without a hefty "transfer fee" (to be decided at the whim of the ISP).As an investor in Blaze, I have to face the very real possibility that Digicel will build their own mobile money solution, and Blaze (being now found competitive to Digicel) will find themselves blocked from Digicel subscribers.”
Ladies and Gentlemen this should be an AVID cause for concern we are already seeing where the just now vitalized tech entrepreneurial space is being adversely affected, the loss of any investor small or large is a precious loss for the tech/entrepreneurial community here is Jamaica. With great apps like Blaze on the way this year, this announcement by digicel may even cause these Jamaican owned and operated projects to consider launching in other countries and not Jamaica, robbing the country of valuable and possibly life changing services.
The net Neutrality debate is one that has garnered international attention with countries such as the Netherlands and Chile to become effectively the world’s first and second “Net Neutral” countries. The debate in the United States has taken fever pitched heights amid protests; the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) advanced a "net neutrality" proposal that would ban Internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to websites.
What DIGICEL is doing is in breach of the Jamaica Fair Competition act (2001). Part III section 17, which clearly states “(1)This section applies to agreements which contain provisions that have as their purpose the substantial lessening of competition, or have likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in a market. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (i) agreements referred to in that subsection include agreements which contain provisions that-(a) directly or indirectly fix purchase or selling prices or any other investment; (b) limit or control production, markets, technical development or investment; (C) share markets or sources of supply; (d) affects tenders to be submitted in response to a request for bids; (e) apply dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage; (f) make the conclusion of contracts subject to acceptance by the other parties of supplementary obligations which, by their nature or according to the commercial usage, have no connection with the subject of such contracts”.
This basically means that they cannot ban one service and not ban ALL. That is unfair competition according to the act. Also, the fact that we pay DIGICEL and LIME for the data plans, i.e internet on our mobile devices, and VoIP uses the internet over the phone, it matters very little if it stresses DIGICEL and LIME’s bandwidth, we pay for a specific amount of bandwidth and that is the bandwidth we utilize, they have no right to tell us what to do with the bandwidth allocated to us that we pay for, furthermore, DIGICEL can scarcely complain about our bandwidth usage since we are NOT getting the 1mb over what we pay for, for free.
Fellow Jamaicans, this this where you come in, our Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, the Honorable Julian Robinson, the Jamaican Government, The OUR (The Office of Utilities Regulation) and our Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr. Portia Simpson Miller have up to the time at which this article was composed, declined to give a statement and have gone on record as to say they have taken “no position” on net neutrality. This cannot be allowed to happen any longer. We must besiege our elected officials to protect our civil liberties from a corporate culture of greed and lack of accountability. We must demand that Minister Robinson, the OUR and Dr. Simpson-Miller take a stand on the side of its people, and not on the side of one of its corporate partners, DIGICEL. And this must send a CLEAR message to LIME and Columbus Communications (FLOW), that no similar action to this one will be tolerated, further more we propose that a total boycott of both networks (LIME and DIGICEL) be as put into immediate effect, with patrons instead using services like Tango to make calls or Skype or any other way that avoids using credit (minutes) to communicate, including data plans for those who are able to do so, for those who are not please limit your calls and texts in solidarity with this cause, if our government can be made to change their minds about the bank tax, these racketeers must be made to cower in fear of those they serve.
Sic Semper Tyrannis!!!
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