VoIPNow.org – Telco in Belize blocking VOIP

April 28, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.voipnow.org/2006/04/telco_in_belize.html

Yet another 'stuck-in-the-old-times' telecom monopoly, you might say. Russell Shaw reports about this telecom monopoly, Belize Telecommunications Limited, which has been allegedly blocking outgoing calls over Vonage, Skype and other Internet phone service providers. Users say this is happening for the past few months.

This one might hurt the Belize economy most. Belize is dependent upon tourism and tourists like VoIP, a lot. As expected, online forums are active on the topic. Nevertheless, expect the matter to be resolved soon enough.

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Channel 7 News – Dialing Up on VoIP: High Tech & Low Cost

April 28, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.7newsbelize.com/archive/04270607.html

Will Belizeans be able to continue making cheap calls using voice over internet protocol technology? That is the question the Public Utilities Commission says it will answer in the near future. And while the PUC debates the "opportunities" and "threats" of VOIP, tonight we'll show you how it works and why some users are paying much less on their phone bills using the service. Keith Swift has the story.

Keith Swift Reporting,
Alright well even though I am in Belize you know my Miami number, 305-335-11XX. Alright, later…I was able to make that international call using this little box. It may not lot like much but this is what is called a voice over internet adapter. Small boxes like these are what have been fuelling the debate over the voice over internet protocol because these boxes allow users to make cheap calls over the internet with their home phone.

So how does it work? Well technology consultant Niall Gillett says that along with being cheap, making calls using the VOIP technology is fairly easy.

Niall Gillett, Technology Consultant
"They'll send you a little box, something that looks something like this, and you will plug this into your broadband connection, which is offered through your cable company in Belize City, your satellite provider, or DSL through BTL. Once you plug that in, you pick up your normal home phone and you use it just like you use it for any other thing, except though that you will now have a United States phone number or a European phone number or a Canadian phone number and you can talk to anyone in any of these other countries practically for you. You basically have unlimited calls. In a nutshell, once you have one of these services, any phone call you make is a local call so you can talk unlimited for a small price."

In the world of VoIP, Vonage is the most popular and talked about. Gillett says there are others. He concedes the quality of the call does vary and it may be unreliable at times but he calls those small opportunity costs.

Niall Gillett,
"Price, price, and convenience. The prices to use these, like I said if you have one of the phone numbers and you are dealing with business in the States or around the world, most of your calls that you make will be local calls and they will be free. You pay one set fee which is about US$30 and you can't beat that."

And if you are really serious about cheap calls, you don't even need a computer to sign up to use VoIP.

Niall Gillett,
"You don't actually need a computer to do this. All you need to do is call one of these services or visit them online, sign up with them, and they'll send you this equipment. Or if you don't want to use their equipment, you could go to one of the thousands of places in the world and buy this equipment practically at very cheap prices."

Cheap calls, cheap equipment, and easy setup but is it legal?

Niall Gillett,
"It is not illegal to use these services. I think right now that is what everyone is looking at is are these services legal. We would say that they are not illegal."

And if and until it is illegal, VoIP calls will be the phone service of choice for those high tech, low cost consumers.

Users of Vonage and other similar services told us that they were able to use the service problem free today. We should note that Vonage and other similar companies are not licensed to offer phone services in Belize.

For more on VoIP and related technologies you can visit Niall Gillett's website or email him at niall@nlg-consulting.com.


Download Copies of the 4/26 PUC Presentations

April 27, 2006

The PUC's website contains most of the presentations from yesterday. Here are some links (in the order they were delivered at the meeting):

Mr. Roberto Young

http://www.puc.bz/publications/Telecoms_Sector_Overview_R_Young.pdf

Mr. Kevin Arthurs

http://www.puc.bz/publications/Kevin%20Arthurs%20on%20the%20Legal%20Perspective.doc

Mr. Kevin Harris

http://www.puc.bz/publications/University_of_Belize_K_Harris.pdf

Mr. Michael Kong

http://www.puc.bz/publications/ISP_Perspective_M_Kong.pdf

Mr. Gustavo Giron
http://www.puc.bz/publications/Business_Perspective_G_Giron.pdf

Mr. Niall Gillet

http://www.puc.bz/publications/Citizens__Perspective_N_Gillett.pdf

While we are at it, here is a copy of BTL's license also found on the PUC website:

http://www.puc.bz/publications/BTLLicence.pdf 


Love FM – BELIZEANS DEBATE VOIP AT PUC FORUM

April 27, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.lovefm.com/story01.shtml

The Public Utilities Commission sponsored a public forum at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City yesterday morning. The subject was the law governing Voice over Internet Protocol in Belize. The P-U-C decided to hold public forums after verbal complaints that Belize Telecommunications Limited has blocked two-way voice communication using B-T-L infrastructure. Voice over Internet Protocol allows people to bypass regular long distance telephone service.

Kevin Harris represented the University of Belize and offered U-B’s recommendations.

Kevin Harris, UB Representative

“We recommend that all block for IP services like voice be removed immediately. We recommend that long distance education and learning be promoted. We recommend that that we encourage in crease economic activities and national development. We recommend that consumer privacy be protected by removing technology that has been use to block and this technology requires monitoring of consumers traffic. We recommend that as a natural resource our source is not being owned by a private entity. We recommend that the IST market in Belize and that more competition be encouraged. We recommend that we create a technical body be formed to work with policy makers, regulators and the national university, service providers and the consumers the proactive way address technical issues of national impact such as voice. And by the way in an email received from the president of UB it was strongly suggested that we share that the university has the resources necessary to assist any organization in policy and regulation matters and she has value offered to assist in facilitating the provision of such services. In summary Voice can enhance these educational services and economic course. Our fee should not be concerned about the of the consumers use of their purchase and the PUC shouldn’t makes its counterpart full fill its mandate to protect the consumer. There are three main areas that are of main interest in the University (of Belize)as is for National Development; on is increase access to education, two is increase access to economic activities, and three is cause effective expansion of communication services in Belize. Increase access to education With technology is used extensively I use in delivery of online education and learning. Online education and learning requires voice data and video and be communicated simultaneously, increase of economic activities where it allows for cheaper and effective communication and collaboration between organizations locally and internationally and by more effective communication we mean that voice data and video data can be communicated and worked on simultaneously by organizations here in Belize or with partners internationally. It is cheaper and much easier to implement voice in rural communities than regular phone service and it is also faster to deport and since it is one of our concerns is that such communication services be extended to rural areas, voice will be an effective and efficient solution. With all the consequences to block voice in Belize first of all from the University’s perspective strategic plans to implement education and learning, the effectiveness of this initiative will be impossible without voice. Second, economic activity in Belize will be impeded simply because voice data and video communication between these two international organizations are limited because of the cost that is high and the limitations of the current phone company for example the current phone service does not allow for video communication services. Deployment of communication services to rural areas will continue to be delayed where voice can be easily implemented. Another problem of blocking voice is that other IP services such as email, video messages, and video conferencing web surfing will be degraded. Simply because the technology use to block voice and we had to monitor the traffic on the internet and therefore slowdown many things that we now do that is not voice related. Another question that we chose to address is why in the world would they block voice? And these are just suggested answers, where in the world is voice blocked? North Korea, China? Some of the monarchies and the dictators in the east. For one the US allows it and so does Europe, most of Asia, most of Central America and the Caribbean, why never Belize.”

Attorney at Law, Kevin Arthurs, also offered a legal perspective.

Kevin Arthurs, Attorney at Law

“The issue is whether VOIP will be regulated under Belizean law that requires telephone companies to obtain licenses authorizing them to provide telecommunication services. In this regard, the legislation is manifested clear. Our telecommunications policy has expressed a clear intent to regulate and monitor new technologies including the internet and its caravan of emerging technologies and I quote from the Policy Framework itself of 2001 page 14. It says the PUC will regulate new technologies in the most optimum manner to maximize the benefits to the country ultimately with the view to have the market assume its natural independence, personality to the best of the country itself. To make a more central legal question is whether and what classification of telecommunication service do VOIP services fall or whether they fall outside of the legal classification altogether. The governing legislation being the Belize Telecommunications Act makes no differentiation between telecommunication services which may be regulated and the means of technologies that employs the fees of those services. It is clear that our legislation is broad in its jurisdiction. The new telecommunication act will empower the PUC to regulate these new and converging technologies like Internet, E-Commerce, and Cable TV operators using their networks for two way communication. These provisions read along with section 4 subsection 5 and subsection 6 suggest that the provision of web services can be effectively, it appears, administered under both license classification. The pregnant question is then, what of blocking? In examining the licensing structure and the licensee relationship it appears that in many instances apart from satellite subscribers all internet providers or ISP’s, those would be persons in Class License Holder Category subscribe to an individual license holder in our case B.T.L. If our services are not within the boundaries of the ISP/ Individual Licensee Contractual Arrangement the individual licensee obviously may not be obliged to provide a service which he does not offer unless contracted. Therefore it is my humble submission that in those circumstances, he may prevent those actions which are detrimental to its agreed services menu. I also think however, this certainly would not exist between an ISP who only accesses a network and an individual licensee who with contractual understanding do not boast of such unrestricted menu of service. I’ll be remised if I were not to point out that the introduction of this technology is not a straight forward puppy jerk reaction but that the cloud of issues surrounding it are still very much at steak. In my opinion where should the PUC stand in relation to VOIP. After reviewing the policy and the administrative paper trail the P.U.C. should welcome and appears to be mandated to welcome introduction of VOIP services in Belize. (Clapping) And why should they not? IP networks have the potentials to enable a wide range of new voice services, some of which will differ significantly from traditional telephone services. Voice services are expected to increase competition as they have several compelling advantages mainly lower infrastructure deployment costs as well as more efficient network utilization.”

Niall Gillett also gave a citizens’ perspective.

Niall Gillett, Citizen

“If any communications provider today decides to block the opportunities of the Internet, what can they decide to block tomorrow? I am going to appeal to a higher power; the Belize Constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of Belize. The constitution gives us all the right, part two section twelve; except by his own concept a person shall not be hindered in his freedom of expression including to freedom to hold opinion without interference, freedom to receive opinion without interference and intonation without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference whether the communication be for the public generally or to any person or class of persons and freedom from interference from his correspondence. We are citizens of this country with a constitutional freedom and that is to associate, communicate and to and correspond and that freedom must not be interfered; that is what this thing is all about. Regardless of the moment of process and excuses. This is all about pay for internet connection and use it to translate and receive packages of data regardless of type. The constitution does make provisions though for a whole list. Constitutionally the constitution gives certain powers to the Public’s Utilities Commission; it has been given the constitutional duty and the statutory duty to protect all rights of consumers and citizens of this country. For them to make judgment without considering long term technology influences and all the rights to communicate and correspond they must make interference of communication regardless of type or transmission method illegal. We have been depending on the PUC to meet our needs, to stand up for us but it is at heart that their influence is greater than our collective voices here today.”

(Article contained identicle PM Said Musa quote from below – it has been eliminated from this post)


Channel 7 News – The Battle Over VoIP

April 27, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.7newsbelize.com/archive/04260601.html

For weeks now the debate over the voice over internet protocol has been raging among users who've become accustomed to making cheap calls using the service. As we've reported, those users have been complaining that BTL is blocking access to services such as Vonage and Skype. BTL has denied those claims but there are many well moneyed and influential interests making an emphatic counterclaim. Their lobby and public carping became so loud that, as industry regulator, the PUC has had to get involved. The commission is within weeks of making a decision on the future of VoIP in Belize. Today they got an earful at a forum on "The opportunities and threats of VoIP in Belize." Here's what they heard.

Niall Gillett, Citizen’s Representative
"No one has the right to say how we can or can't communicate."
In short – that was the rallying cry heard loud and clear inside the Caracol room at the Radisson this morning. It was standing room only and though the topic was “high tech talk,” at times it had the air of a political rally. The forum would last for three hours and moderator and PUC’s Director of Consumer Affairs Danalyn Myvette set narrow parameters.

Danalyn Myvette, Director of Consumer Affairs – PUC
"The forum is structured so that we can hear from stakeholders on the opportunities and threats of VoIP. So primarily we will confine our discussions to that."
The Public Utilities Commission assembled a head table of legal and industry experts alongside representatives from the University of Belize, the Chamber of Commerce, and the general public. UB’s Kevin Harris sang the first line of what became a chorus.

Kevin Harris, UB
"We recommend that all blocks to VoIP services such as voice be removed immediately. VoIP can enhance Belize's educational services and economy and we should not be concerned about the consumer's use of their purchased bandwidth."

Michael Kong, ISP
"The issue before us today is if Belizeans will be allowed to enjoy the benefits of this telecommunications technology, commonly referred to as VoIP and will the laws and regulations be enacted and other steps taken to deprive us of this activity. The internet service providers of Belize believe we need to legalize VoIP services and allow ISPs to deliver their services to their customer. We recommend regulate, not terminate."

Niall Gillett,
"We as citizens in this nation have a constitutional freedom and that is to associate, communicate, and correspond and that is what this whole thing is about. Regardless of the noise about packets and other excuses, this is all about being able to pay for an internet connection and using it to transmit and receive packets of data regardless of the type."
It didn’t end there because two hours later the ire of angry internet users suffering from VOIP withdrawal was unleashed when the mic was opened to the floor. Tom Vidrine from San Pedro led the charge. For him the only threat to VOIP is BTL.

Tom Vidrine, San Pedro
"My advice to BTL is to wake up: you aren't in the phone business, you are in the telecommunications business and you better grab this technology because if you don't, you won't realize that all those telephone poles and all those wires are already obsolete. My next piece of advice is to our fellow citizens. We as citizens, I understood we got our independence not too long ago but don't every now and again you just feel like somehow we as citizens are still the poor lowly subjects of some certain Englishman. Do we really have our freedom.”

George Hardy, Las Vegas Casino
"With the $1200 a month I pay for internet access, I don't think there should be restrictions. I wouldn't want somebody to rent me a car and tell me I can only put one passenger in it.”

David Schumer, UB
“We pay for water, what we do with the water, that's our prerogative. We do whatever we want. We talk about our power; we pay our power bill and what we do with that power is our business. It is a utility. Bandwidth is a utility; we pay for that and what we do with it is our business.”

Betty Gabourel-Cooper, Dangriga
"When will BTL ever learn? It seems the more we move ahead, the further we fall behind. I have always felt that I was the boss of my home or whatever went on in the confines of my home as long as I was not cooking drugs, or exploiting minors, making funny money, or holding anyone against his or her will, that it was my business and no one else's. Well suddenly I found out that the mighty BTL does not think so. People I think its time to put a stop to the blatant unfair and highhandedness we are subjected to by the BTL monopoly."
And speaking of a monopoly that is where the regulator comes in, right? Well the PUC couldn’t even get BTL to attend today’s forum.

Tom Vidrine,
“I have had calls from throughout this country, people sending me letters to represent them here today from all over the country of Belize. I have a couple hundred letters here for the PUC and lastly I beg you not to let this happen to our country and our community.”

Ivan Roberts,
"Madam from the utility commission, I am grateful to the Almighty God for those four letters over there and I’ll be very angry with you and your organization if you deprive this nation of the opportunity to use the technology that BTL did not create."

Ian Anderson, Caves Branch
"I would like to have the PUC not spend the next week, month, or six months determining what you are or aren't going to allow. I would ask the PUC, and Mr. Canton personally, to order BTL forthwith to stop hindering VoIP services until you decide what to do. What I want the PUC to say right now is, ‘stop,’ until we decide what to do and I think that has to be done.”

Betty Gabourel Cooper,
“The PUC what is your function if you cannot represent the people and the facts as they are. It does not take a rocket scientist to see what BTL is doing and what they intend to do and to the PUC, get off the fence and get doing the job right.”
And after three hours today’s audience doesn’t seem ready to accept any less from the PUC than for them to do their job.

And if you are wondering why BTL didn't attend, well a BTL representative declined comment but did tell us that the company has already made its position known to the PUC. PUC Chairman Dr. Gilbert Canton was unable for interviews this morning and Danalyn Mvvette declined our request for an interview. She told us it is a board decision, one which she says will be made in the coming weeks.


Channel 7 News – Musa Says Regulators Will Decide VoIP’s Future

April 27, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.7newsbelize.com/archive/04260602.html

And while Myvette says it is a board decision, many observers believe that it ultimately a Cabinet decision and today we got the considered VoIP opinion of the boss of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“We believe it is a matter that should be fully canvassed and discussed. We recognize that the modern technology is such that the whole question of voice over internet is a part of technological life and we believe that BTL and the other providers, I believe they are using it, and so what we have to do is find a balanced way forward to bring down the cost of the use of telephone and other such devices in telecommunications and I think this matter is being analyzed by the people who are concerned with it and the PUC, I believe, is canvassing the views of the public with a view to coming up with a position.”

Alfonso Noble,
You say you are looking at ways to bring down the price of international calls. How can you do this with a monopoly which time and time again has proven that they are not ready to do that, they are here to make profits?

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“Whether it is a monopoly or not, the fact of the matter is that there is competition out there and people, through their creativity, have found a way to reduce costs for themselves so that is what they’ll have to deal with.”

Alfonso Noble,
But now that creativity is being limited or they are trying to limit that creativity.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa,
“Well there is another aspect to this thing that we should not ignore and that is that BTL pays its taxes and it can only pay taxes if they make a profit. Although it is based on the gross, it can only pay taxes if it is a going operation and a large part of their revenue, if you like, comes from international calls. What I am saying is we cannot allow say a foreign provider who pays nothing to the country of Belize to be charging people for a facility and the country does not benefit from that. That telecommunications and the satellite and all the airwaves and what not, that footprint belongs to Belize and Belizeans should benefit so they cannot be charging our people outside and we get nothing out if it. So it’s a complex issue that will have to be resolved, in fact it is affecting the entire region and the world at this time.”


Channel 5 News – Public tells B.T.L.: don’t mess with VOIP

April 27, 2006

Original Story:

http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=16126

Technology: it's opening up whole new worlds of human enterprise, particularly in the field of telecommunications. But while the science expands exponentially, the legal, political and economic ramifications lag far behind. That's the position in which Belize finds itself as the public discovers the wonders and the phone company experiences the woes … of VOIP.

Janelle Chanona
It was standing room only at the Radisson this morning as Belizeans gathered to participate in the public forum on Voice over the Internet Protocol.

Organized by the Public Utilities Commission under the theme “Opportunities and Threats of VOIP in Belize”, today’s session was designed to exchange expert analysis and public opinion on the hot button issue before making any policy decisions. VOIP technology has come under heavy scrutiny since monopoly internet provider Belize Telecommunications Limited began using specialized software to block low cost digital phone service via sites like Vonage.

First on the agenda were analysts and invited presenters. According to international telecommunications consultant Wim Van Dijk, phone companies want to disconnect VOIP because it cuts into profit margins.

Wim Van Dijk, International Consultant
“Rough estimates, not for Belize, but for incumbents were about twenty percent of the revenues are in danger, not immediately but in time, depends how much development you have.”

Kevin Arthurs, Attorney at Law
“The P.U.C. should welcome and appears to be mandated to welcome introduction of VOIP services in Belize. (Clapping) And why should they not? IP networks have the potentials to enable a wide range of new voice services, some of which will differ significantly from traditional telephone services. Again, voice services are expected to increase competition as they have several compelling advantages.”

Niall Gillett, Citizen’s Perspective
“No one has the right to say how we can or can’t communicate.”

When industry insiders took the podium, it was clear VOIP has more supporters than opposition.

Niall Gillett
“We like to talk and we like to talk for free. (Laughter) So what’s at stake, is it bandwidth? We know that’s not problem. Is it profits? That’s not our problem, our profits. Is it security or is it our basic freedom to communicate. If any communication service provider can today decide to block a particular feature of the internet, what can they decide to block tomorrow. That’s the way I see it.”

Kevin Harris, University of Belize
“Why in the world would an I.S.P. try to block VOIP? And these are just suggested answers. Maybe the I.S.P. has a strangle hold on the internet service in Belize, maybe they currently use VOIP technology to provision long distance service and inflates it’s cost. (Clapping) And maybe they provide phone services and propose that VOIP will reduce its revenues from phone services. Probably.”
“We recommend that all blocks to IP services such as VOIP be removed immediately.”

(Standing ovation)

Michael Kong , I.S.P. Association
“Our own informal survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of Belizeans want to be able to enjoy the benefits of VOIP. Any attempts to outlaw VOIP or otherwise prevent VOIP use in Belize would be extremely unpopular and would be regarded as a retrogressive step in the entire world community. (Clapping) In conclusion, we recommend regulate, not terminate.”

Gustavo Giron, Belize Chamber of Commerce
“There is also a big concern about the risk of losing business opportunities because there might be a perception of holding back on technology and development for investors or partners or different new ventures analyzing establishing business in Belize.”

Today BTL subscribers didn’t need to computer to voice frustrations.

Consumer 1
“My advice to B.T.L. is wake up. You aren’t in the phone business. You are in the communication business. And we better grab this technology. Because if you don’t, you wont’ realize that all those telephone poles, all those wires, are already obsolete.”
“I disagreed with one of the speakers earlier that said it needed to be regulated. I think it should it should be licensed and I don’t think in any free society communication should be taxed or regulated.”

Consumer 2
“If the twelve hundred a month for internet access, I don’t think there should be restrictions on it. If you allow business to sell a product, I don’t want someone to rent me a car and tell me I can only put one passenger in.”

Consumer 3
“Even with the present lines that B.T.L. claims that they’ve invested so much in and they’ve done a favour to the country and they’re out there with lines to these far villages, these remote villages. Those same lines that only take one community phone, that same line can, if using voice over IP can put in numerous phones, internet and other services can go to those villages, not just one single phone.”

Consumer 4
“Madam from the utility commission. I am grateful to the Almighty God for those four letters written over there and I’ll be very angry with you and your organization if you deprive this nation of the opportunity to use a technology that B.T.L. did not create.”

Consumer 5
“I would like to ask the P.U.C. not to spend the next week, month or six months determining what you are and are not going to allow. I would ask the P.U.C. and Mr. Canton personally to order B.T.L. forthwith, immediately to stop hindering VOIP service until you decide what to do.”

Consumer 6
“I know that there’s many foreigners and others come into our country and set up business at home and do use the VOIP system. Okay, and in that sense for me as a Belizean, and what I see it is a threat to our country because nothing is registered, nothing is reported and money is generated in and out of this country and doesn’t pass through and benefit the rest of the country. So that is a threat as far as I am concerned, economically.”

Consumer 7
“It was stated that you cannot have a local number if you use VOIP. This is not true, anyone who wants to learn how to do that can see me at U.B. and I’ll explain to you how you can use both. It won’t cost to do this free, no charge. You also said that you do not pay for VOIP. Excuse me, I think I have to pay for D.S.L. connection every month. I am paying. You talk about charging fees, taxation, excuse me, I have to pay a tax on that connection, so I am paying my taxes.”

B.T.L. and Speednet both refused P.U.C.’s invitation to today’s session and once again, B.T.L. declined our requests for comment following the meeting. But while service providers are staying silent, the P.U.C. was quick to point out that consumers need to sleep with their own eyes.

Danalyn Myvette, Director, Consumer Affairs
“We are not advocates. In the Caribbean region and beyond many regulators or all regulators have to deal with formally organized consumer representation. Belize needs that. We ought to have that. (Clapping) Our mandate is to protect consumers, consumers have its own mandate. And that is to advocate because our protection has to be delivered within the confines of the law and we must balance the interests of all stakeholders.”

Already local experts warn of even more sophisticated technology on the horizon, highlighting the need for proactive laws, policies and consumer groups to try and keep up with the rapidly evolving world of telecommunications.

Although B.T.L. has declined all requests for comment, company officials have informally let it be known that if the public is allowed to use low cost VOIP voice services, the company would be forced to charge higher rates for its local wired phone network and unprofitable rural telephone access.