THE Communications Bill 2016 was passed to Select Committee following its presentation to Legislative Assembly on Thursday.
Describing the subject of telecommunications as “very emotive,” Member of Legislative Assembly Roger Edwards in presenting the Bill said it had been “a long time coming,” but MLAs also assured it would not be rushed.
Currently telecommunications comes from sole provider Sure Falkland Islands under an exclusive licence and, “in order to properly regulate the provision and ensure the telecommunications needs of the people of the Falkland Islands are properly catered for at an affordable price to encourage infrastructure investment and continued growth in national and international capacity, we need this new ordinance,” said MLA Edwards.
He emphasised that the Falklands relied heavily on modern telecommunications.
MLA Mike Summers speaking on the Bill said it was probably, “the most important piece of legislation that we will consider in this Assembly,” adding, “it has huge implications for everybody.”
He said the responsibility of the Assembly was to, “make sure that what we ultimately produce and what we ultimately pass and contract under licence is satisfactory for everybody; every citizen of the Falkland Islands and it must be affordable for every citizen of the Falkland Islands.”
Speaking of the Regulation sector of the Bill he said, “unless we improve the regulation of telecoms in the Falklands we will not have a happy population.”
He said Members were committed to the proper regulation of telecoms and that it required, “additional resource, additional capability and additional knowledge that doesn’t currently exist in our workforce and that is a key piece of the Bill.”
In Part 7 which deals with the exclusive licence he noted it was the responsibility also of Members, “to make sure that everybody has had sufficient opportunity to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
He said the universal service obligations set out as guidance for the exclusive licence were crucial and reiterated that the Bill “must be suitable for every sector of the community; the young and old alike, for those who live in Stanley, for those who live in the far reaches of the Camp, those who live and work in Mount Pleasant; for everybody, this has to be a suitable piece of work.”
He said it was important to move forward with the Bill due to the old one, “not giving Government the right to regulate in certain areas - and that has been a major failing - but we don’t need to press on with it at a speed that leaves people behind. We will need to reflect on that in the next few days and make sure we discuss it with all interested parties.”
MLA Poole apologised that the Draft Bill and the underlying licence had not been published together earlier in the year with a consultation time-line. He assured that they would give themselves and the community proper time to consider it fully, “we won’t be pressured in to making decisions we are not comfortable with.”
He outlined the areas where MLAs were all in agreement including that the current licence holder in recent years had made, “substantial and excessive profits from the Falkland Islands, in the past couple of years in particular I would personally go so far as to say they are indefensibly high.”
He said that was down to the Falkland Islands Government, “failing in its duty to properly regulate the exclusive licencee over a number of years.”
At the time of going to print members of the community were in the process of giving evidence at Select Committee on the Communications Bill.