By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Regulators last night slammed Cable Bahamas’ “self-serving” argument that newly-developed infrastructure sharing regulations be confined to the mobile market, as they unveiled another key step essential towards its liberalisation.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), in its ‘results statement’ on the consultation over the new regulations, suggested that the BISX-listed operator’s response seemed design to protect its own fixed network business.
“URCA disagrees with Cable Bahamas’ views that only mobile infrastructure should be the focus of the regulations, and that the obligation to provide access to infrastructure should be limited to BTC only as the mobile operator designated with SMP (significant market power),” URCA said.
“In URCA’s estimation Cable Bahamas’ response is self-serving considering Cable Bahamas’ own strong market position as a fixed network operator, and no account has been taken of local concerns about tower proliferation.”
URCA added that the mobile-only approach suggested by Cable Bahamas would be “discriminatory and disproportionate”, and violate the Communications Act, while also countering the efficiency gains from addressing infrastructure sharing for fixed network operators at the same time.
“Currently, URCA is aware of one or more existing licensees seeking infrastructure-sharing arrangements with operators of fixed networks, and the absence of a framework for fixed infrastructure sharing has made this difficult,” the regulator added.
Publication of the infrastructure-sharing regulations is an important element in the process to liberalise the Bahamian mobile communications market and end the Bahamas Telecommunications Company’s (BTC) monopoly.
They set out the ‘rules of the game’ by which BTC must grant access to, and share facilities such as cell towers with, the second licence winner - be it Cable Bahamas or Virgin Mobile (Bahamas).
While minimising the duplication of networks, and the environmental and social impact of their build-out across the Bahamas, the regulations will also enable BTC’s first-ever mobile competitor to launch its services as rapidly as possible.
URCA, meanwhile also disagreed with Cable Bahamas’ suggestion that it would be “discriminatory, disproportionate and anti-competitive” for the regulations to “mandate” that the second licence winner co-locate with BTC rather than build its own network.
Refuting the notion that this would prevent the new operator from building its own network, the regulator said: “URCA is cognisant of the new entrant’s roll out obligations under its licence, and where it is not technically and/or economically feasible for it to co-locate on existing facilities, the entrant will not be prohibited from applying to URCA and other relevant authorities to construct its own towers.
“Moreover, URCA clarifies that the reason for the restriction of co-location on towers owned or controlled by other licensees is to ensure that URCA maintains regulatory oversight over tower sharing throughout the Bahamas.
“URCA reiterates that regulatory involvement in infrastructure sharing is required to encourage sustained growth and development of the market and to ensure that the benefit of facilities sharing is accrued to all involved parties.”
However, URCA did agree with Cable Bahamas’ suggestion that it create a process for BTC to modify existing communications towers that were currently unable to take the equipment of rival operators.
“Cable Bahamas noted that Part 5.5 of the regulations should require consideration of anti-competitive behaviour by BTC that amounts to an abuse of dominance in relation to restricting tower space suitable for sharing,” the regulator noted.
“Cable Bahamas declared that URCA should provide clear guidance on how it would assess reasonable reservation of suitable sharing space on any new towers that are built.
“Cable Bahamas further recommended that URCA should establish a process for the reconstruction or modification of BTC’s towers that are unable to accommodate the new mobile entrant’s equipment, and where the new entrant is willing to share the cost of replacing the tower.”
While unwilling to consider Cable Bahamas’ concerns over anti-competitive behaviour by BTC in the scope of this consultation, URCA added: “URCA agrees with Cable Bahamas’s recommendation that URCA should establish a process for the modification of existing towers that are currently unable to accommodate the equipment of another operator.
“Therefore, URCA has included specific provisions on modification of existing towers in Part 3 of the regulations.”