16 Dec Jamaican government eyes regulating, taxing VoIP OTT providers – Jamaica –
Jamaica’s government has said it plans to regulate and also collect tax from voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) telephony providers, local newspaper The Gleaner reported.
Minister of science, technology, energy and mining Phillip Paulwell said that VoIP regulations were currently being drafted.
“The ministry for finance and planning needs to collect revenue,” Paulwell said.
The news comes as part of a probe carried out by utilities regulator OUR in recent months after Caribbean operators Digicel and LIME attempted to block from their networks the use of unlicensed VoIP service providers like Viber and Nimbuzz, which allow free calls worldwide using smartphones.
Paulwell said that no particular VoIP over-the-top (OTT) provider would be singled out.
“We are hoping to encourage Jamaican programmers,” he said, while noting that a “distinction” will be made regarding “pure voice” services.
Digicel’s director of international business Conor Clarke told BNamericas in August the company had been trying to force services like Viber into contractual arrangements, accusing these providers of illegal bypassing by terminating traffic on their networks without paying fees and also of adding pressure to their broadband networks.
However, attempts to block the unlicensed VoIP operators have met with a customer backlash against the operators, The Gleaner reported.
Digicel and LIME’s UK-based parent company Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) were both quoted by the paper as welcoming the move.
“While we were not aware of the regulations mentioned by the minister, we do welcome the proactive response to the issues related to VoIP calls,” Digicel reportedly said in an emailed statement.
CWC commented: “We have long maintained that VoIP operators have been utilizing the network of telecoms providers without any commensurate compensation for this service. In doing so, they are also depriving the government of tax revenue.”
The newspaper reported that Jamaican programmers and tech entrepreneurs do not view such regulation as a positive move, saying blocking free VoIP providers stifles innovation in a sector where startups have limited access to capital.
They have also claimed that the blockade goes against the principles of net neutrality, where VoIP services ought to be treated as part of the data package paid for by broadband subscribers.