CANTO Weekly Newsletter – BNAmericas

CANTO Weekly Newsletter – BNAmericas

Friday, October 6, 2017

ICT: The week in 10 stories – Regional

FCC grants use of fund for hurricane repairs – Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

4G LTE flows into St Kitts & Nevis – Caribbean

Puerto Rico hurricane crisis: Beyond a telecoms infrastructure problem – Puerto Rico

Cuba to expand residential internet beyond Havana – Cuba

ICT: The week in 10 stories – Regional

Costa Rica’s ombudsman, Defensoría de los Habitantes de la República de Costa Rica, has challenged telecom regulator Sutel‘s decision to lift controls on the mobile market.

The telecommunications law states that the regulator must provide well-founded arguments in order to declare effective competition in the mobile market, said the ombudsman in a press release. According to the agency, Sutel’s analysis is characterized by a lack of clarity and thus its resolution did not follow applicable laws.

ARGENTINA-CHILE

The elimination of international roaming between Chile and Argentina could become a reality resulting from a free trade agreement currently being hammered out by authorities from both countries.

On Wednesday, authorities from the two neighboring nations concluded the fifth and final round of bilateral talks to seal a free trade agreement (FTA) that is expected to be implemented next year.

ECUADOR

Telecom giant América Móvil will invest US$450mn in its Ecuadorian operations over the next three years.

América Móvil CEO Daniel Hajj made the announcement during a meeting with Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno.

The investments announced will be used to upgrade network technologies and expand the telco’s coverage in order to provide cutting-edge services.

BRAZIL

The corporate court in Rio de Janeiro overseeing the bankruptcy case of Brazilian telco Oi has granted the company’s request to postpone a general meeting of creditors.

The first call for the meeting was scheduled for October 9, but the company requested that it be postponed for two weeks, pushing the first call back to October 23 and the second to November 27.

The reason for the postponement, according to the company, was “due to negotiating factors for the approval of the Judicial Reorganization Plan and procedures related to the AGC [general creditor’s meeting], which may result in adjustments in the AGC voting system.”

VENEZUELA

Swedish telecom equipment giant Ericsson is keeping its operations and presence in Venezuela to a minimum in order to be able to provide support to networks for clients who are still in the country.

“We’re not doing any new business in Venezuela, just maintaining our footprint and providing support to the networks,” said Ericsson’s head of market for Europe and Latin America, Arun Bansal, alongside the group’s CEO and chairman Borje Ekholm.

Visiting Brazil as CEO for the first time, Ekholm received BNamericas and representatives of four other media outlets at a hotel in São Paulo. He was accompanied by Bansal and by Ericsson Brazil president Eduardo Ricota.

COLOMBIA

Colombia accounted for 8% of cyberattacks carried out in Latin America this year, with losses estimated at US$6.18bn, according to a report from Colombian security solutions provider Digiware.

Digiware presented the results of a study that monitored 13,000 devices in the region at the Information Security Trends Meeting event in Bogotá. The study revealed that Colombia has been the target of 198mn cyberattacks this year alone, with an average of 542,465 attacks per day.

PARAGUAY

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has vetoed a bill approved by congress that obliges all mobile subscribers to reconfirm their identities or risk having services cut off.

Under the law, subscribers would have had a period of 12 months to physically present their ID cards at an office of their operator and provide a digital fingerprint.

Amongst his reasons for the veto, Cartes said the country lacked a unified biometric database and the bill would put unfair pressure on operators for an issue that has more to do with national security.

CARIBBEAN

Eastern Caribbean mobile operator UTS has decided to migrate all subscribers that were still using its 2G network on the Island of Saint Maarten to the faster 3G and 4G networks following the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Cuban state-run telco Etecsa reported that over 90% of the telecom services affected by Hurricane Irma have now been restored on the island.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Dominican telecom regulator Indotel has authorized the merger by absorption of telecoms operator Tricom by Netherlands-based Altice Group.

Approval of the transaction is conditional upon certain corrective measures set by the regulator. According to Indotel, the operation constitutes market concentration and corrective mechanisms must be put in place to mitigate possible undesired changes in the structure of the mobile market.

BRAZIL

Brazilian telco Algar Telecom has hired financial advisors to help the company prepare for a possible IPO, the company informed market regulator CVM in a statement.

The company said it is “evaluating the possibility of making an initial public offering”, officially admitting this for the first time.

The advisors will be responsible for working on the terms of a possible offering, as well as assessing regulatory approvals and market conditions. No further details were given.

FCC grants use of fund for hurricane repairs – Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ordered the freeing up of up to US$76.9mn from the Universal Service Fund for use by telecoms operators to repair damage to wireless and wireline infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands caused by Hurricane Maria.

“I am also proposing that we give carriers operating in these territories the option of receiving USF funding in advance. Instead of receiving a standard monthly payment, carriers could elect this month to receive seven months’ worth of funding immediately in order to expedite repair and restoration efforts,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

Given the urgency of the situation, Pai said that he had asked commissioners to expedite approval of the order and that if it has not been adopted by the FCC’s October 24 meeting, it will be voted on then.

In an October 2 report, the FCC stated that 88.3% of cell sites were still out of service, little change from last week, and 27 of the 78 counties have 100% of their cell sites out of service.

In the US Virgin Islands, 69.8% of cell sites are out of service and 100% of cell sites in St John are down.

The FCC also reported that a large percentage of consumers are without cable and wireline services.

In a blog posted on its website, AT&T said it had made significant progress restoring its network and was connecting more than 8mn calls and 4mn texts a day in Puerto Rico.

One of the main problems facing telcos is the lack of electricity, which is down throughout most of the island and expected to take months to restore.

AT&T said it has sent shipments of temporary cell sites, trucks, emergency communications portable satellite units, generators and fuel, and restoration equipment.

Temporary cell sites are currently connecting Ponce, Arecibo, Humacao, Rio Grande and Aguadilla and there are plans to deploy sites in Mayagüez, Fajardo and Guavate.

Due to problems with airports and ports, the company said getting equipment to the island was “challenging.”

Puerto Rico telecoms regulator JRT’s president Sandra Torres was quoted as saying that Cells On Wheels (COW) had been deployed in Ponce, Arecibo and Aguadilla and further deployments were scheduled.

She added that the country’s largest telcos – AT&T, Claro and T-Mobile – had extended their periods of open roaming, which allows users to receive a signal, if available, irrespective of the provider.

4G LTE flows into St Kitts & Nevis – Caribbean

Caribbean telco Cable & Wireless, which operates the Flow Brand, has activated 4G LTE in St Kitts & Nevis.

Flow general manager David Lake was quoted as saying that the company is offering throughput of up to 50Mbps.

Flow launched 4G LTE on St Lucia in September and in Barbados in March. 4G LTE is already available in other Flow territories, including the Cayman Islands, Antigua, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos.

Flow is present in 15 Caribbean territories. CWC is owned by Liberty Global.

Puerto Rico hurricane crisis: Beyond a telecoms infrastructure problem – Puerto Rico

Some 90% of all cell sites on Puerto Rico were still out of service on Wednesday as a result of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

The crisis in Puerto Rico is a humanitarian one, and not being able to communicate is delaying and frustrating relief efforts.

But beyond the damage to the telecommunications infrastructure, the real problem is energy related.

Hurricane Maria left the island’s power plants largely intact, but 80% of transmission lines, which take power from the plants to distribution centers, have been knocked out.

Ken Buell, director of emergency response and recovery with the US Department of Energy has been quoted by press as saying that the damage is so bad that it may have to be totally rebuilt rather than repaired.

But money is an issue. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is bankrupt and repairing the damage caused by María is being talked about in the tens of billions of dollars.

Even with the money, commentators are saying it could take six months to fully to restore power to the island.

Currently, hospitals and other critical infrastructure are relying on power generators. Then there is the problem of transport, given that many of the roads are badly damaged and without telecommunications it is hard to coordinate relief efforts.

With temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, no refrigeration for food or medication and no water, the situation is critical.

“This is not a technology issue but an electric power problem,” José Otero, a Latin American telecommunications expert and Puerto Rican native, told BNamericas.

“The problem is not having electric power or the ability to transport fuel or food,” Otero said adding that three quarters of the island is mountainous, which creates problems for accessibility.

“This is something that goes beyond telecommunications.”

HELP ON ITS WAY

The national guard has sent five generator-operated military communications units, according to The Verge.

Much of the efforts for restoring communications have also been assumed by the private telecoms operators.

With a blog updated daily on its website, AT&T says it has sent planes with more than 50 generators and other supplies.

A website has been set up whereby residents in the US can register the cell phone number of a family member or friend who is an AT&T customer in Puerto Rico. When the customer’s cell phone connects to the network in Puerto Rico, the customer will be notified that their family or friends in the US have been trying to contact them.

Some 13,500 people have signed up for the website so far.

The carrier is also waiving fees and providing unlimited data, talk and texts to AT&T wireless customers in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which was also badly hit.

Sprint says its towers are largely intact and it is working to restore backhaul and power. The company is also shipping satellite (VSAT) equipment for restoring voice and text, chargers and battery packs, and fuel.

CRITICISM

US authorities have been criticized for their slowness to respond and the controversial issue of whether Puerto Ricans are being treated as second class US citizens (being a US territory and not a state) has reemerged.

Only late this week did the Trump administration lift the hindrance of the Jones shipping law, which obliges all freight to the US territories to have to go through the US and on US vessels.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also been slammed for not holding hearings on the state of emergency.

This week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai appeared to be trying to shift some of the blame to Apple, asking Apple to activate FM chips on its iPhones to which Apple responded that most of its phones do not have FM chips and those that do don’t have compatible antennas to pick up FM radio signals.

Local (ham) radio stations have so far been crucial for sending data and text messages and coordinating with rescue authorities.

But once the floods subside and some degree of normality is returned, many questions will have to be answered.

According to Otero, a lack of money was not the main reason for the electric power problems but a total disregard of maintenance of creaking infrastructure.

Despite having the most advanced LTE telecommunications infrastructure in Latin America and five mobile operators, infrastructure is limited to the more populous areas and more investments are needed.

At the very least, VSAT satellite equipment and backup generators should already be on the island. Hurricanes are, after all, a yearly phenomenon.

“There’s a whole social catastrophe that led to this point. It’s not like what happened in Puerto Rico happened in a void,” Greta Byrum, director of the resilient communities program at the public policy institute New America was quoted as saying by The Verge.

Cuba to expand residential internet beyond Havana – Cuba

Cuba will continue the expansion of residential internet by extending the service to five new provinces.

According to state-run telco Etecsa, the service will be expanded gradually with the goal of covering all of the island’s provinces by December.

The provinces of Pinar del Rio in west of the island and Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, and Guantanamo in the east were selected to implement the first residential internet programs outside the country’s capital.

Etecsa began commercializing residential internet in Old Havana in March after conducting a pilot program between December and February.

The telco had already announced plans to conduct a residential internet pilot program in the city of Bayamo in Granma province consisting of 1,500 connections.

The commercial plans for this initiative contemplate four 30-hour packages with prices ranging from 15 Cuban convertible pesos (US$15) to 70 Cuban convertible pesos, reported government daily Granma. This represents a slight reduction from the plans launched for the residential internet program in La Havana, which ranged from 15 Cuban convertible pesos for 256kbps to 256 Cuban convertible pesos for 2Mbps.

However, overall prices are still somewhat high, considering the average minimum monthly wage in Pinar del Río was 786 Cuban pesos (US$30) last year. This province had the highest minimum wage of the five provinces where residential internet will be commercialized.

Cuba reported having 4mn people with internet access in the first half of this year. Etecsa signed 600 residential internet contracts by May and the telco expects to amass 38,000 residential subscribers this year.

 

The information presented and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CANTO and/or its members