URCA Assesses Stakeholder Readiness to Meet Universal Service Obligations

On March 30, 2012, the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) initiated engagement with designated Universal Service Providers (USP), to assess their current provision of specified universal services, as prescribed by the Communications Act 2009 (The Act). URCA also issued a consultative document for broader public consultation on the scope and implementation of existing universal service obligations (USO). URCA document reference ECS 12/2012: Framework for the Clarification and Implementation of Existing Universal Service Obligations (USO), Under Section 199 and Schedule 5 of the Communications Act 2009.

Universal service in regulated industries refers to the provision of reasonable access to a baseline level of services to all persons regardless of income status and geographical reach. Including therefore the economically disadvantaged as well as those residing in areas that may be considered comparatively remote, on the basis of what may be deemed affordable.

The Communications Act designates the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas Limited (CBL) as USPs, with the following obligations:

BTC • Basic dial-up internet services to all populated areas • Basic dial-up internet services free of charge to specified institutions • Basic telephone services to all populated areas • Public access to pay apparatus [pay phones] CBL • Basic television services to all populated areas • Internet services to all populated areas • Basic television services to specified institutions [free of charge] • Internet services free of charge to specified institutions

Where relevant, the consultation proposes clarification of specific universal services identified in the legislation. URCA also proposes specific provisions of services for the differently-abled. The members of society with specific functional impairment; be it visual, aural or physical. These provisions are a particularly important first step to identifying means by which persons with disabilities might be able to access telecommunication services in the same way as persons without disabilities.

The consultation also seeks to establish core principles for calculating the costs to USPs to provide designated USO. URCA therefore also proposes funding mechanisms as part of this consultation.

This URCA consultation closes on June 29, 2012.

Persons may download a complete press release and the consultative document, from the links below.