The law currently governing telecommunications in the Dominican Republic is older than Facebook (founded in 2004) and Instagram (launched in 2010), and in its content the literal word “internet” does not appear.
When said General Telecommunications Law was passed in 1998, what was being handled more was analog and telephony, and in the world there was a frenzy about the imminent arrival of the new millennium and how the date 2000 would impact computer services.
Twenty-three years have passed since Law 153-98 came into effect. The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) believes that it should be updated and to that end is holding a public hearing until 31 May with a view to presenting a draft bill with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
However, the Association of Communication and Technology Companies (Comtec) does not consider it necessary to modify the current law because, in its opinion, it establishes the principles and criteria that provide the necessary legal security for the deployment of networks and services. It also argues that Indotel has not defined which are the specific aspects that need to be modified in order to achieve the State’s objectives.
Indotel seeks for the new legislation to evolve into an Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Law and with this to contribute to the faster achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, set out by the United Nations, and to the institutional and operational strengthening of the institute itself.
His initiative is not the only one. Two months ago (March 15), the deputy of the People’s Force, Rafael Tobías Crespo, deposited a bill in the Chamber of Deputies, which on April 7 was sent to the Permanent Commission of Information and Communication Technology for its study.
The document, of 121 pages and 156 articles, proposes a new law with a name similar to that of Indotel: General Law of Information Technology and Telecommunications of the Dominican Republic.
Crespo’s initiative is ambitious. It seeks to create the Ministry of Information and Telecommunication Technologies (MITIT), to be in charge of the formulation of the public policies of the sector, which would suppress and assume part of the roles and attributions of the Presidential Office of Information and Communication Technologies (Optic) and of Indotel itself.
Other attributions of both entities to be suppressed would be assumed by a Superintendence of Information and Communication Technologies, which would regulate, inspect, supervise and control the information and telecommunications technologies and the radio electric spectrum. One of its functions would be to issue an approval certificate for the commercialization in the country of any ICT equipment or device.
“All countries give them ministerial rank; Cuba has a Ministry of Telecommunications, Chile has it, Argentina has it, Colombia has it, why? Because they bet on that,” Crespo told Diario Libre to defend his proposal.
But the proposal made in the document presented by Indotel with the support of the IDB is that, instead of suppressing the institution, its role as a regulatory body of telecommunications and ICT should be strengthened. It also identifies the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development as the one to which Indotel should be attached.
Congressman Crespo – who has 33 years linked to the telecommunications sector, both academically and professionally – understands that approving a new law will take time, because it is necessary to consult all those involved and to face the “strong interests” of the sector. He recognizes that the content of his proposed law will not be completely to the liking of those involved.
Comtec – which groups large telecommunications companies in the country – argues that it is untimely to propose a project to modify the law in a pandemic such as COVID-19. It argues that some complementary regulations can be issued to ensure that the provisions are updated and comply with public policies.
“This consultation exercise has not been preceded by an exhaustive evaluation of the effectiveness of the sectoral legal framework as a catalyst for the development of the sector, so there is also no obsolescence check of the General Telecommunications Law,” Comtec executive director Claudia Garcia told Diario Libre.
When Indotel opened the public hearings at the end of last March for its draft bill, it explained that “a new law is needed to deepen the massification of Internet access and the development of the telecommunications markets and national digital ecosystems, as well as the levels of competitiveness of the country, and to achieve the full insertion in the Information and Knowledge Society”.
Crespo and Indotel understand that a new law will serve as a basis for settling commercial conflicts that previously have been handled with regulations, due to outdated legislation.
“Products, services, money, weapons, drugs, human trafficking, child pornography pass through the Internet, that is to say, there is also an issue of defense and citizen security that will force the State to pay close attention to this law and enrich it”, said the deputy.
Users in the new law
The bill presented by Crespo contemplates a series of consumer and user rights, which change the existing rules. One of these indicates that they will be able to unilaterally terminate the adhesion contract signed with the service provider at any time, prior notice, at least 15 days in advance, without being obliged to pay penalties or surcharges.
Also, not to receive mass or individual messages or calls for direct sales, commercial, advertising or proselytizing purposes that have not been previously and expressly authorized by the customer.
It is also stated that as of its enactment, the 10% Selective Consumption Tax applied to information technology and telecommunications services would be eliminated “to break down tariff barriers” and “reduce the digital gap in the lower income sectors”.
For the use of private IT and telecommunication services, it states that it will be necessary to register in a Special Registry that MITIT will keep for this purpose.
In that project and in the document that Indotel is analyzing, it is proposed to maintain the principle of freedom in the definition of the final tariffs to users, but Crespo’s proposal specifies that the tariff ceilings defined by the MITIT must not be exceeded.
Indotel’s proposal also seeks to establish minimum guidelines to govern the procedures for the granting of permits associated with the deployment, whether they are for territorial or urban planning, civil works, environmental or enabling titles.
He insists on the importance of promoting the deployment of infrastructure to achieve social inclusion benefits and the economic benefit derived from this, especially in the context of the current pandemic that has strengthened teleworking and imposed distance education.
“(The current law) was a 98 law that was well structured for the time, what happens is that there have been technological advances in every sense of the word,” Indotel president Nelson Arroyo told Diario Libre. “You are never going to pass a law that achieves that the totality of the actors are in agreement, but we pursue that the greatest amount of actors of the sector are in agreement.”