Unlike power, water and sewerage, the government does not want a monopoly for internet services – but it is also determined to ensure that any new internet providers don’t just cherrypick the lucrative businesses in Rarotonga and Aitutaki while disregarding those on the outer islands.
Deputy prime minister Mark Brown says the fair treatment of those living in the Pa Enua is part of a draft telecommunication policy now available for public consultation.
And at the same time, the government has identified a need for independent regulation of the provision of monopoly services in the electricity and water and sewerage industries.
The Cook Islands Telecommunications Market Competition Policy 2019 is an approach from the government to opening up the telecommunications market to competition and regulating service providers in an efficient and effective manner.
Brown, who is also the minister responsible for telecommunications, says a key element of the new policy is a Universal Service Access commitment.
And this commitment, he says, will ensure affordable and quality telecommunications and internet service to all Cook Islanders.
The draft policy aims to further the achievement of the government’s information and communication technology vision by creating a policy and legal framework under which service providers will have the opportunity to enter, invest in and competitively supply telecommunications services in the Cook Islands.
The primary objective of this policy is to enable the emergence and development of competition among suppliers of telecommunications services, in the interests of promoting consumer welfare, creating opportunities for investment; and ensuring high quality, sustainable and reliable telecommunications infrastructure.
The government proposes to give effect to the new regulatory framework through two Bills, to be introduced to Parliament this year. They are the Competition and Regulatory Authority Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications Bill 2019.
The Competition and Regulatory Authority Bill 2019 will set out the form, function and general powers of the telecommunications industry regulator.
The proposal, as endorsed in principle by Cabinet in August last year, is to extend the role of the telecommunications regulator to include the two additional sectors, following its establishment.
The country had been serviced by a single telecommunications operator, partly-owned by the government, under a legislated monopoly since 1989, with limited independent oversight.
While this approach has served the Cook Islands well to date, Brown said the ICT landscape, both here and abroad, has changed considerably since the Telecommunications Act 1989 came into force.
“The local infrastructure landscape is also changing. The Manatua Cable, which is expected to start service in mid-2020, will provide fast, reliable and affordable internet services,” Brown said.
“In addition, experience elsewhere in the world has demonstrated the benefits of competition in the telecommunications industry: for consumers through access to new services and lower service prices, and for business through new investment opportunities.
“The government is committed to opening up the telecommunications market to competition to secure these benefits, and at the same time adapting the regulatory framework so that it is fit for purpose in this 21st Century ICT environment. The government’s proposals in this regard are set out in this draft Cook Islands Telecommunications Market Competition Policy 2019.”
The closing date for submissions is June 14, 2019. Written submissions received by the closing date will be considered in the development of the final policy.