September 30, 2020

Number portability row may end up in court

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Authorities are studying court action to enforce the overdue 1 July date for telephone companies to launch “number portability“, enabling mobile telephone users to change service providers, but keep their personal number.

“That is under consideration,” said Dave Archbold, managing director of the Information and Telecommunications Authority (ICTA). “The deadline remains 1 July and we are not sure what happens now. That is why legal action is under consideration.”

If referred to the courts, the dispute could result in a range of penalties encompassing suspension of operating licences and fines as high as $25,000.

“We are continuing to work with the operators to get things done. It just has not happened as quickly as we would have liked,” said

Frans Vandendries, LIME vice president for legal, regulatory and corporate affairs, and also chairman of the seven–member “Local Number Portability Consortium”, which encompasses main telecommunications operators LIME, Digicel, Telecayman and WestTel.

On 1 December last year, after a series of complaints from the telephone companies regarding the complexity of implementing the portability agreement and the problems of creating a database, the ICTA agreed to extend a previous November deadline to start the service to 1 July this year.

Despite ongoing lobbying by the operators, however, the ICTA refused to extend the July limit, telling the consortium it had “not identified any substantial or procedural reason” for an extension.

The portability scheme operates commonly worldwide, and is often credited with forcing government-approved, frequently complacent telecommunications monopolies into sharp competition with newcomers, improving efficiency, innovation and customer service.

In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has had number portability since September 2009 and Mexico since July 2008, Canada has offered the service since March 2007 and the US since November 2003. Five African nations already boast the scheme.

Neither Mr Archbold nor Mr Vandendries were willing to predict when the dispute might be resolved, much less when the Cayman Islands might expect portability, under discussion for at least six years and the frequent cause of bitter dispute.

LIME has long opposed the service, while both Digicel and Telecayman supported it in their in their early stages, but grew to oppose the project after consolidating their own market shares.

Arguments have turned on the expense of starting the service, training staff, importing new equipment, corporate secrecy and contracting with a “central reference database”, an independent company to log local telephone numbers and transfer them among operators.

As obstacles have been overcome, however, resistance has sharpened among companies jealous of their customer base.

“The consortium has a vendor for the daabase, but they are obviously attempting to look after their own individual interests – and the different companies each have different interests,” said one commentator, referring to Dutch database provider Porting XS.

“You can slap huge fines on people, and you can go to court, and then there are appeals and appeals of appeals, but no one wants that,” she said. “But suspension of an operating licence is a ‘nuclear option’ in a tactical problem,” she said, “The ICTA just wants o get this thing in place as quickly as possible.

“We are continuing to work with the others,” said Mr Vandendries, “but we have all been off for a couple of weeks and I really have no idea when it will get done.

“LIME really wants to get it done,” he said, but declined to comment on prospective legal action in the wake of the missed deadline, now more than six weeks past.

“I am focused on how to get the job done,” he said.

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