Regulator warns Digicel against blocking ads on customer phones

18ixb60k05goxjpgCASTRIES, St. Lucia, Tuesday November 3, 2015 – The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) has warned Digicel against proceeding with plans to implement technology to block Internet ads on customers’ mobile phones, saying it would not only be hindering the growth, usage and deployment of broadband but also breaching its licence.

This follows a September 30, 2015 announcement by Digicel and brought to ECTEL’s attention by the National Telecommunications Authority (NTRC), in which the company said it would become the first mobile operator to implement ad control technology to block Internet ads on customers’ mobile phones, particularly from big companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google, unless they get some of the ad revenue.

Digicel, which accused the tech giants of taking advantage of its network and keeping the money for themselves, said it would introduce the new policy in Jamaica before rolling it out in its other Caribbean markets in the coming months.

However, in a statement issued a few days ago, ECTEL said while it wants to improve the experience of customers using the Internet and increasing penetration for broadband services in its member states – Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – “it strongly opposes the method being proposed by Digicel to achieve this objective”.

“ECTEL remains committed to promoting the up-take of broadband in its Member States and is of the view that the implementation of this technology by Digicel will hinder the growth, usage and deployment of broadband,” it said.

ECTEL added that in correspondence sent to Digicel’s managers in all five member states, it reiterated its position on Net Neutrality, which states that service providers should treat all data on the Internet the same, not intercepting, interrupting, blocking, degrading, discriminating or charging differentially, by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, mode of communication or source or destination of communication.

“Interception of any communication without the consent of the receiving party breaches the Telecommunications Act and amounts to a breach of the operator’s licence,” the regulator warned.

“ECTEL is therefore advising Digicel to adhere to the stated principles of Net Neutrality and to refrain from deploying its ad control technology within ECTEL member states.”

When it announced its ad blocking plan in the September statement, Digicel contended that the move would be a win-win for the company and customers.

“With ads using up as much as 10 per cent of a customers’ data plan allowance, this move will allow customers to browse the mobile web and apps without interruption from unwanted advertising messages,” the statement said.

“Digicel is looking to companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook to enter into revenue sharing agreements with it so that this money in turn can be reinvested in network deployment and ultimately the bridging of the digital divide.”

Chairman of Digicel Group Denis O’Brien said that, by going in that direction, the telecoms company was “taking a stand” against the big tech companies “to force them to put their hands in their pockets and play a real role in improving the opportunities for economic empowerment for the global population.”

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