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Digicel Blocks VoIP Services in the Caribbean

July 17, 2014

By Casey Houser, Contributing Writer

Another day, another report of telecommunications provider Digicel (News - Alert) cutting off VoIP services from interacting with its network. The Columbus CEO reported in a recent article on Digacel's decision to halt VoIP access throughout the Caribbean, and in all the countries in that region it has affected with its decision, customers are voicing their concerns.

The Columbus CEO tells the story of Roxane Ledan, a woman who spoke to her daughter in Canada through a VoIP service from the Caribbean. This is how the mother and daughter kept in touch every day, and three weeks ago, the report says, everything changed. Roxane's mobile app ceased to function, and she soon found out that her mobile provider, Digicel, was blocking the applications she chose to use, Tango and Viber.

"I feel like I have been deprived without warning or explanation," Ledan told the Columbus CEO. "This is my only daughter and being able to speak to her and see her is my breath of air every day."

Her story is likely just one among many that mirror her sentiments. Access to her loved ones through VoIP was a lifeline, and now it is gone. But Digicel, a major player in mobile communications throughout the Caribbean, says the apps residents use are completing connections illegally.

A recent Digicel statement said of the issue: "Unlicensed VoIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz (News - Alert) use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but they do not pay any money for the privilege."

TMC reported previously on similar actions the company is taking in Jamaica. Digicel's legal and regulatory head Gail Moss-Solomon said her company "continue[s] to reach out to VoIP providers to determine a mutually beneficial way forward."

Basically, Digicel wants to be paid by the application providers that access their networks.

"We believe these operators are acting illegally and as such we are within our rights to block them," Moss-Solomon continued.

The Columbus CEO said Digicel began blocking VoIP services for users in Haiti about a month ago. It has over four million customers there, and nearly 200,000 of those customers access VoIP applications at least once a month. The service blocks continued into Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad. LIME, a telecom competitor, has also blocked VoIP apps in Jamaica.

Now, customers are fighting back with their words and with legal organizations. They are reportedly taking to social media and blogs to voice their opinions, and one writer to the Jamaica Gleaner called Moss-Solomon's letter in the Gleaner a "self-serving piece of drivel." A few consumers have also issued a 10-page argument that challenges Digicel's ability to block these mobile apps.

In that petition, they ask: "If customers are important to Digicel, explain how we can wake up one morning without prior warning to the customer, and see that all applications on our phones do not work?"

Digicel appears to show no signs of letting up. However, regulators such as Haiti's CONATEL and the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago could affect change in their respective regions. Viber CEO Talmon Marco has even brought attention to European Union rulings that could soon disallow telecoms from blocking VoIP services.

For the time being, the future of VoIP coverage in the Caribbean is uncertain, but a number of consumers and businesses are definitely not happy about the changes and are making their voices heard.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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