Gordon Swaby

Digicel and LIME’s move to ban VOIP apps bad for innovation in Jamaica

The move by Jamaica’s two telecoms to ban voice over internet protocol (VOIP) applications on their networks sets a dangerous precedent and will inevitably stifle innovation in Jamaica.  Skype, one of the applications banned by both networks was founded 10 years ago by non-Americans and was in 2011, sold to Microsoft for 8.5 billion US dollars.

Their decision to ban VOIP almost guarantees that no innovation from that space will come from Jamaica, sets us at a disadvantage and makes our country more uncompetitive.

In a June 29, 2014 Gleaner article, Digicel’s Antonia Graham, head of communications at Digicel is quoted as saying  “Unlicensed VoIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but they do not pay any money for the privilege,” she goes on to say “the unauthorised activity puts enormous pressures on bandwidth – which means customers’ data usage experience is negatively impacted as a result”. As an Internet Entrepreneur, how am I supposed to take that message?

My startup, http://www.EduFocal.com is an online social learning service for GSAT and CSEC students in Jamaica; we offer test prep questions and answers in a fun, unconventional way. We do, however, plan to expand to video content in the near future and offer our service to hundreds of schools across Jamaica and the Caribbean. Thousands of students will be consuming our content on their cell phones, tablets and desktop computers and this will no doubt “put enormous pressures on bandwidth” for Digicel. As a small startup, will I at some point be required hire lawyers to negotiate with Digicel for this “privilege” instead of focusing on innovating?  Are other small Jamaican entrepreneurs who are creating opportunities for others be required to do the same at some point?

Many Jamaican entrepreneurs have used and continue to use the internet to create opportunities for themselves and others. Marc Gayle, Co-Founder of http://www.10poundpledge.com/  and a friend of mine allows users to pay ( via the internet) for an exercise program that can be streamed or downloaded for use in the home is an example of a service that has the potential to utilise above average bandwidth for his product. Marc and I are two examples, but there are many other entrepreneurs who could potentially be affected by this move by Digicel and LIME in the future.

For us to achieve Vision 2030, Jamaican internet entrepreneurs need an open internet where innovation is allowed and encouraged and freedom reigns. A regulated Internet is a comforting thought to internet service providers (ISPs), but a scary thought to entrepreneurs and the ecosystem around them. I hope Digicel and LIME reconsider this decision and explore equitable ways of maintaining and growing their revenue and staying competitive in this ever changing world.

Written by Gordon Swaby

Gordon Swaby

Founder and CEO of social learning service EduFocal.com. I’m passionate about technology, the internet and the use of technology in education. I am a recipient of Governor General’s Youth Award, the PSOJ’s 50 Under 50 Award, The commonwealth Youth Award and many others.

Lovingly made on Monday, June 30th, 2014 at 10:48 pm. Filed under Entrepreneurship, Interesting.

  • Niel Harper

    The Jamaican government gets a percentage of revenue from long distance calls, so I believe that they are tacitly supporting this blocking of Skype, Vyber, etc. because VOIP apps are cutting into their income streams. Digicel is doing the same very thing in Haiti, with no doubt the same type of support from government. This is not only anti-innovation, but also anti-competitive and goes against the basic principles of the open Internet. An IP packet is an IP packet, and you should not be able to restrict what applications an end user employs once he/she purchases Internet access from you — whether it is mobile broadband or fixed broadband. This is quite similar to the net neutrality debate in the U.S. where Comcast wants Netflix to pay extra money for a fastlane to the Internet so that its customers service won’t be degraded or blocked. In many countries, what Digicel and Comcast are doing is illegal (but in others it is supported by governments who are more interested in revenues than in driving innovation, promoting competitiveness, and facilitating the emergence of the Internet economy).

    • Coyote

      Very good points posited @Neil Harper. As I was pointin out in a discussion board, telcos Re making record profits as well as the Universal Service Access Fund which is supported by a percentage of the monies made from overseas calls are in the billions in their coffers. Revenue generation should not be an issue then. I am not certain that in a country with a lag in proper telecoms regulations that we are concerned about the end user and trying to create a competitive and innovative digital economy. Many businesses can and will be affected by a ban on VoIP as well as end users. These people need to get with the times and there is a thing called net neutrality. If this is to happen in Jamaica it would be a shame.

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