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.