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Not everything is free


HALLAM HOPE

Not everything is free

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IT HAS BEEN an international issue for years, similar to the decades-old question of who owns the national airwaves when it comes to commercial television viewing.

For years, state-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Barbados has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with equipment providers based overseas who sell “boxes” that allow any Barbadian to watch paid television services without being charged by the local television and radio station.

Now it has come home to Internet customers, that it is not a free-for-all in this domain either.

Local artistes can perhaps understand the issue of copyright infringement only too well, which has now hit Barbados’ shores in a big way with Flow blocking access to illegal streaming of entertainment, including movies and other types of content.

The analogy from the Barbadian singer’s perspective is one of having produced local content, having the copyright for it and yet making very little money as this content is copied and sold by third parties who make a killing.

In much the same way CBC has been haemorrhaging over the years with loss of revenue, telecommunication companies in the Caribbean have discovered that having invested billions of dollars to upgrade services for their broadband customers, like the Barbadian singer, others have benefitted from what are termed “illegal” services.

We all love free, especially good free, which may include movies or television shows.

Remember when HULU movies were free until you received a prompt that the service was no longer available for showing in “your country”?

In a December interview with Niall Sheehy, managing director of Cable and Wireless Barbados, when Barbados was formally branded the first country where all householders had the infrastructure to access broadband services, driven by fibre optic technology, he made it clear that illegal services could expect a clampdown by the company.

At the same time, Sheehy reaffirmed that legal services such as Skype and WhatsApp, which Barbadians are great fans of and use almost like second nature, would continue to be available.

The Fair Trading Commission in Barbados ruled last year that such OTT or Over-The-Top services would remain free to citizens.

So companies offering a service for just under $10 monthly simply said to those persons who were blocked from viewing copyrighted movies and other forms of entertainment, ‘pay me and I will get you “un-blocked” so you can watch your content to your delight.

But what is truly an international trade in services issue and an international legal and copyright matter has now hit Bajan shores.

Some might say in the same way United States Federal agents led by Elliott Ness brought gangster Al Capone to his knees by having him jailed for tax evasion, one of the umbilical payment cords, PayPal, has been forced to stop taking money from customers using “un-blocking” services.

Perhaps not quite the same thing, but you get the point.

These deemed-to-be illegal services similar to the OTT scenario are partly blamed for degraded Internet service.

Another issue apart from the legal implications for a service provider such as Flow is that while local companies pay taxes, some foreign companies offering services over the local communications network do not pay a cent to Government.

But in what might prove to be a Star Wars episode, it remains to be seen whether the “Empire” will strike back, similar to the unblocking of the national airwaves.

Hallam Hope is a communications consultant. Email: [email protected]

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