TelEm Group CFO Helma Etnel makes case for Caribbean Telecomm operators at close of International internet conf.

TelEm Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Mrs. Helma Etnel is making a case for regulators to create a more even playing field for Telecomm operators in the Caribbean similar to the ones created for so-called OTTs such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger.


She is concerned that these OTTs are unfairly piggybacking on Caribbean Telecomm infrastructures while not contributing financially to local economies and development of local bandwidth infrastructures in the region.


Addressing a panel discussion at the close of an important International Internet Conference at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort Casino & Spa Friday, the CFO expressed her view on Net Neutrality and how this is affecting telecomm operators throughout the Caribbean.


“It would appear that some regulators are in favour of net neutrality and are all for the protection of OTT service providers at the cost of local operators, and gatherings like this present a good forum to appeal to Caribbean governments to find a way to also speak with these OTTs to see how they can contribute to the development of our infrastructures – an infrastructure that OTTs continue to make use of without additional cost to them, and in so doing, help to reduce the costs we incur here in the Caribbean and also, most importantly, help make bandwidth more affordable to all of our customers in the region,” said Mrs. Etnel..


Mrs. Etnel suggested that another way to redress what she sees as discriminatory treatment of operators (compared to treatment given to OTTs), would be for local regulators to ease up on regulations that are currently restricting Telecomm operators. The regulators, she believes, can also give due consideration to dropping, or at least reducing regulatory fees, thus allowing more funds to be redirected into faster infrastructure development and upgrade.


“I will be the first to tell you that I make use of OTT services such as WhatsApp, Messenger and Facetime and in fact we welcome them since they are essential to the use of our own customers,” Mrs. Etnel told Friday’s panel discussion on Net Neutrality.


“What I am saying however, is that it is discriminatory and unfair for operators like TelEm Group, that are regulated, pay huge taxes, concession fees and regulatory fees and make huge investments here on St. Maarten and in the wider Caribbean, while the OTT’s pay none of these costs and don’t contribute anything to the economies that we, as Telecommunication Operators, serve,” said Mrs. Etnel, noting that current policies related to OTT’s and net neutrality are to the benefit of these OTTs that are often located in developed countries.


“I feel that at this moment in time, the focus in the Caribbean should not be on net neutrality per se, but on completing fiber infrastructures and offering affordable bandwidth and also providing incentives to the ones who make these needed investments, rather than simply taking over policies from developed countries that do not work in countries with small economies of scale such as ours with limited funds for infrastructure developments,” continued the TelEm Group CFO.


Mrs. Etnel informed the panel about previous efforts made by the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Operators (CANTO) to speak with OTT’s  in the hope of obtaining some financial compensation, however all presentations from the region has fallen on deaf ears.

Friday was the final day of the International Telecommunication Conference, held at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort Casino & Spa.


The event was organized by Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), the Latin America and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry (LACNIC) and the Internet Society (ISOC) under the theme – St. Maarten on the Move.


It also involved a week of events that was coordinated by the Bureau of Telecommunications and Post (St. Maarten) entitled: “Internet Week St. Maarten.”


Mrs. Etnel described Friday’s closing panel discussion as “extremely lively” and thought-provoking and hoped that some positive developments will come out of the discussion.


She praised the organisers of the event for thoroughly covering various aspects of internet development in the Caribbean and the Bureau of Telecommunication and Post St. Maarten for hosting the week of activities.


“The International Internet Conference afforded a rare opportunity for many TelEm Group employees to be part of the ongoing discussions which keeps us abreast with what our neighbours in the Caribbean and Latin America and doing and how we are each finding solutions and dealing with global developments and changes in our industry and for that reason it has been a very successful conference,” Mrs. Etnel added.