Gov’t moves ahead with plans to implement number portability

Minister Melford Nicholas (file photo)

The Lower House of Parliament has approved an amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 2018 which will, in essence, give residents the option of switching between telecommunications service providers without having to change their mobile numbers. Telecommunications Minister Melford Nicholas tabled the amendment on Tuesday. Referring to the change as mobile number portability, the minister explained that while it is taking the government a long time to pass the actual bill “this is a very small but important step”.
“People have become wedded to a particular telephone number, it is a part of their own unique identity, be it a business or an individual. The amendment is merely to give the government and the Ministry of Telecommunications the ability to forge ahead with a particular feature that will be required to ensure that mobile number portability can take place in our domestic market,” Nicholas said.
The government has publicly stated that the commercial viability of the stateowned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) telecoms will be at stake, once they follow through with the implementation of the proposed telecommunications bill that will govern the local sector. Government ministers who spoke on the issue gave their support to the change which will now be forwarded to the Senate for further approval.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for Barbuda Trevor Walker, who contributed to the debate, questioned the delay in the passage of the Telecommunications Bill in Parliament. “We have to get serious in the House. Nobody seems to be able to deal with the issue and get a bill before this honorable house so that we can get into the 21st century with telecommunications. It appears to me that there is a serious problem with APUA.
APUA seems to be keeping a bill way back in the days of the United Progressive Party”. He said that even now, with the Antigua Labour Party back in office, the situation persists of, as he put it, “keeping back the reformation of an industry that is fundamental to the development of this country”. He later added that, “There must be some reasonable time given for APUA to come up to speed.”
According to the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL), number portability is considered to be a key factor in enhancing competition in a multi-operator environment. The regional regulatory body says some of its benefits include: elimination of the costs to business and residential customers when they change their numbers; avoiding the tedious process of informing others of this change; lowering the cost of switching service providers; more efficient allocation of limited numbering resources and a more level competitive environment, with lowered barriers to entry for new service providers.
ECTEL recently announced that a number portability platforms will be launched soon, which will affect all of its member states. Antigua and Barbuda is yet to sign on to ECTEL, but maintains observer status with the sub regional body.