New flat base rate on cellphones

POSTED: 04/12/13 11:13 AM

St. Maarten – Telecommunications Minister Romeo Pantophlet is currently studying a new proposal that would see industry concessionaires paying a flat fee for the spectrum supervised by Bureau Telecommunication and Post  (BTP) instead of paying for each subscriber that is hooked up to their networks.  The minister’s response was directed to questions and suggestions rose by Democratic Party MP Roy Marlin that the government places a levy for every top up (credit recharge) that is done on the more than 30,000 cellular phones on the island, as a way of raising revenue.

Telecommunication companies currently pay a fee for every subscriber (cellular phone number) that is attached to its network but because of the vast amount of data involved, the government usually relies on concessionaires report its amount of clients, instead of checking themselves to see that the money paid to the government is a true reflection of the subscriber database.

With the introduction of a flat rate, the government should be able to get more revenue, the Minister said.

“This will be done in the near future,” he added, without giving a specific time period.

The BTP executes its task through consultation with industry participants and tries to maintain an environment where consumer interests are protected.

It is the BTP which charges a base rate and an annual concession, from concessionaires along with monthly spectrum fees.

“There are a lot of litigation cases going on with concessionaires regarding the spectrum fees. Given the litigation and the cumbersome process in billing,” Pantophlet sees the new proposal as the best approach.

He also responded to requests for the market to be freed up to allow for more competitiveness by stating that everyone is well aware that there is a moratorium on telecommunications licenses.

Yet, “there is a lot of speculation going on in the market,” he explained.

Bureau Telecommunications and Post

The minister also provided updates on the BTP is an independent public entity and has articles of incorporation under which to function. It handles its own budget, internal affairs and its own interests, the minister said. A board decision was made in 2011 for the purchase of the BTP building and notification was given to the minister.

Democratic Party Member of Parliament Roy Marlin had questioned a decision by the bureau to buy a building for 6.5 million guilders. “This is a ZBO (an independent administration organization – ed.) that manages funds for the government. And now it is committing our income to buy a building –and we did not have a say in it. That is impossible. I want to know whose decision that was.”

The minister corrected that the building was actually bought for 8 million guilders and was done via a loan from the Windward Island Bank.

“This did not affect the coffers of the BTP,” the Minister said.

In a clarification round, Pantophlet was then asked if BTP operates as an independent agency, why budgetary allocations were made for it to the tune of 1.5 million guilders for 2013 and 8 million guilders in 2012.

Intellectual Property Bureau

Minister Pantophlet added that the government is in the process of setting up an intellectual property bureau and a public tender was opened for its establishment. The government intends to stand one third of the set up costs while Dutch funding agency Usona will fund two thirds.

While not naming any names, Pantophlet indicated that an experienced lawyer was hired last month as project manager.

The minister wants to have copyright office established as of January 2014.  Draft legislation is therefore being prepared and should reach Parliament by the 4th quarter of this year, he anticipated. An appeal was made for Parliament to provide “energetic treatment of this draft law,” when it reaches the floor.

This was issue that was also raised by Marlin on Monday during the opening 2013 Draft Budget presentation.  Marlin said that it is long overdue for St. Maarten to set up its own office. St. Maarten currently shares an intellectual property office with Curacao, which is also set up in that island. It registers the trademarks for both countries.

All revenues collected on behalf of the country are also being held in Curacao and Pantophlet said that moves will be made to collect the money.

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