Original Story:

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.”

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