There’s a reason why Skype, Viber, Facetime and other voice services that bypass the cellular network are so popular. People don’t want to risk using up their precious minutes and getting slapped with an overage charge, and they feel they can get a better experience without all of the baggage and hassle that seems to come with traditional mobile operators.
For the most part, mobile operators have taken the ‘grin and bear it’ attitude, albeit through clenched teeth. But that’s not always the case as some customers in the Caribbean recently learned the hard way.
Several providers in the region – namely Digicel and Lime – have fired a shot across the bow of the OTTs by blocking them and other VoIP traffic. This affects customers in a number of Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. Digicel has taken the stance that VoIP going over its network – without paying a fee – is considered unauthorized activity and therefore illegal in its eyes.
While certainly not a first, this line in the sand – as it were – is making waves throughout the industry as other operators wait to see how this all plays out. In the U.S. and other parts of the world, operators have an uneasy relationship with OTTs, fully realizing the missed revenue opportunities but at the same time not wanting to draw the ire of their own customers.
Most of these providers have simply started offering unlimited voice and SMS to appease their customers. However in many parts of the world, especially places where landlines are few and far between, mobile calls are the only option. And a lot of those operators simply don’t offer unlimited calling an option, making any kind of free alternative very attractive.
As the blockade continues, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) – a regulatory agency in the region – has stepped in to try and stop it, but Digicel has maintained it won’t lift the ban until it can come to terms with the OTT voice providers.
And according to Digicel, calling this a net neutrality issue isn’t convincing and that it is only trying to get compensation for third parties running services over its network to its customers.
You can be sure that operators and OTTs will be keeping a close watch on this standoff and that it could have a far-reaching ripple effect around the world. If Digicel is able to extract payment out of Viber or Skype, what’s to stop other operators from doing the same? This slippery slope would ultimately hurt customers the most, whether they use VoIP-based apps out of necessity or just to save a bit of money and minutes.