Chances are you’ll be scrolling through your favorite app on your mobile device, tablet, or laptop soaking up gigabytes of foreign content at little or no cost.
This content shared on social media sites, search engines, and entertainment apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp, Spotify, and Netflix, among others, generates millions in advertising revenue and subscriptions for overseas developers. .
None of this contributes to helping rural communities access better internet speeds or improve online digital services.
Local internet service providers, like Digicel, want its regulator, the Telecommunications Authority of TT (TATT), to be more aggressive in getting foreign producers of digital content to contribute to what’s called a Universal Service and Access Fund. (USAF) that can help offset the costs of bridging the digital divide.
According to an October 2021 report from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, closing the connectivity gap for just over half of the world’s population requires accelerated investment in the USAF to ensure these people don’t end up with a lower quality of experience than that available worldwide. developed world.
The report says that existing funding and distribution models are insufficient where only nationally licensed operators can contribute to the fund and that there was a need to expand funding and investment models, including broadening the base contributors.
On April 7, Digicel CEO Abraham Smith shared his thoughts on the matter, among other things, as the company celebrated its 16th anniversary as the first mobile service provider to compete with TSTT in 2006.
The company’s evolution has transformed over the past decade into a major player in the delivery of digital content with a focus on local content through a suite of applications, such as D’Music and PlayGo.
Smith, who has been helping the pan-Caribbean company with Irish roots for just over three years, is passionate when he talks about a level playing field and consistent quality service.
He said dealerships, like Digicel, build networks “for others to make money and when they’re out of the country I kind of resent that they’re able to do it without taxes, without contributions, those types of things.”
Digicel, he said, has spent millions setting up the infrastructure for a fiber optic network which it intends to expand to Tobago, Guyana and Suriname over the next two months. years and has seen a dramatic increase in Internet usage that is not billed by volume but rather by time.
Smith says the company has struggled growing over the past 16 years as it has become a formidable digital content competitor in TT, but the journey has not been without battle scars.
Digicel has had to engage in costly legal battles on occasion against TSTT, which operates bmobile, over issues such as interconnection fee reciprocity, number portability which allows customers to switch service providers without having to switch their mobile number, and other claims for violation of the law on the protection of unfair competition.
Although the issue of number portability was referred to mediation before TATT, no dispute resolution has commenced.
Smith says the relationship improved with TSTT “from immature sibling bickering to something like trick-sharing, something we do today.”
“Absolutely, there has been some bad behavior in porting, it seems that these practices have largely stopped. Porting is taking place within the rules and regulations, it’s still slow but not out of place today.
“I think the regulator is trying to make sure the rules of the road are fair and hold us all accountable, but we expect people to step out of line like we saw about a year ago. and a half on the carry, I thought it was big enough to really push.”
Smith thinks TATT needs to be more empowered to resolve disputes without going to court and should “let competition work a little more.”
Even though TSTT is currently in the throes of a major corporate restructuring with the possible layoff of hundreds of employees, Smith said it was important to have a competitor.
“I like having a competitor as long as they play by the rules and you have a referee who can make a decision.”
Like other local network providers, Digicel faces major competition from international players such as Netflix, Spotify, WhatsApp, Facebook, among others, and wants TATT to be “much more aggressive” so that content providers digital foreigners can contribute to the USAF.
Smith said a discussion about how to use USAF funds is “actively taking place” between the operators, TATT and the Department of Digital Transformation to help bridge the digital divide.
He is confident that the millions invested in his fiber optic network and the company’s pan-Caribbean experience will help expand commercial and government solutions as more services come online.
So where does Digicel see itself in the next decade?
Along with digital entertainment services, the company is focused on enabling entrepreneurs to develop digital products that can be exported as part of the aspirations of the country’s digital economy.
Its partnership with Filmco, calypsonians and newspaper publishers aims to stimulate local content for export and the diaspora.
On the technological side, the creation of people’s digital identities, digital payments and data centers are among its objectives, as well as continuing to build the digital base with network resilience to support the digital economy. .