It is very important for me, as the Head of the Government and Minister responsible for the Telecommunications/ICT market and industry, to inform all users of the market, and any who may have made a complaint through the Office of Leader of Opposition, that my Office, TRR and the OGCIO, have established complaint handling processes to cater for any telecommunications/ICT complaints or issues which may require addressing. Hence, my Office, the Office of the TRR and the OGCIO are ready and open to receive any complaint from any disappointed consumers of telecommunications and ICT services across Vanuatu.
It is also important for all users to understand that the Operators such as TVL and Digicel, and other telco’s, also all have complaint handling processes and procedures in place to serve their customers.
So far, there is essentially no record in any of these organisations of such complaints as raised by the Leader of the Opposition, or have there been any requests for redress. The only complaint received by my Office is for Lingarak in Malekula; for which the assigned Offices are currently handling the matter.
Importantly, I need to inform you that from now on, that by attempting to have a complaint addressed via Social Media is being and will continue to be treated as an informal complaint; and is, and will be just for awareness. In that respect, the means of handling and addressing any complaints with, the telecommunications operators, the TRR, and the OGCIO must be through their official and established complaint handling processes. This procedure needs to be followed for any disappointed citizen and for them to comply with. I am extremely disappointed that the Leader of Opposition, who has knowledge of the complaint handling processes, has chosen not to follow them and use social media first up.
In reference to the specific villages quoted in the Opposition Leaders Press Release, I can confirm that all villages mentioned do have access to mobile coverage; except for Turtle Bay which is classified as an unserved and underserved area.
Addressing UAP Policy on 98% Population Coverage
Members of public must understand that the policy objective of the UAP is for “by 1 January 2018, 98% of the Vanuatu Population (key word in here is population access) which are not served or not adequately served; shall have (and continue having after this date) access to voice, narrowband data services including text messages and broad band services”.
As mandated by the Government, the TRR, along with the telecom operators, is currently effectively implementing this requirement and it is well on track to deliver it by the required date. Through TRR’s close and cooperative working with the operators I am confident this target will be met and may well be exceeded. Citizens must also understand that the Government in 2014 has decided and mandated the TRR to focus on population which are not served (villages or communities with no communications network coverage at all).
It needs to be appreciated too that in order to deliver on the 98% population target, the Players – mainly TVL and Digicel – have already spent around 840 million Vatu to provide access to these uncommercial areas (21 new mobile towers across the country) identified by the Government. This is on top of further construction of new towers and the upgrading of all existing towers to supplement and improve services in key areas. It should also be noted that this expenditure comes at no cost to the Government at all; and is being fully funded by the operators out of their own capital budgets.
I am concerned, however, that in a number of cases the operators have been hampered by unnecessary delay due to disputes over land, and land rental demands beyond what is commercially acceptable and unjustified labour cost increases.
Given Vanuatu’s topography and access difficulties it is not possible, using existing terrestrial technologies, to cover the entire geography of Vanuatu and receive a commercial return for the business making entities such as TVL and Digicel and other existing operators.
Other Complaints Raised
Again, it is sad to learn that the Leader of Opposition without consulting my Office, TRR or the OGCIO has raised these complaint allegations without establishing the facts and denying us natural justice. For example, the press release made reference to the services providers complaining about TRR’s required performance and indicated that they cannot work with TRR. This is untrue. As quoted and endorsed by the operators, including TVL and Digicel, the TRR is instrumental in establishing and maintaining a very good working relationship (working in collaboration but independently in decision making). I also note that one respective CEO has indicated: “I must say that I have started off on good footing with the TRR and this is a surprise.” Another Operator said that “I am in Vanuatu for 9 years now and we never met with opposition leader or any political leader regarding any telecom issue. We don’t have any issue with TRR or any government authority; the areas mentioned in the report are covered except turtle bay”.
TRR has also been instrumental in addressing some sensitive issues by working with all key stakeholders involved in the telecommunications market to bring down prices associated with the supply of bandwidth via the fibre cable. Whilst those actions on this matter are only just beginning to bear fruit, the long term benefits to market participants and then the wider society will soon begin to be seen in improved pricing, faster speeds and a greater ability to transact both Government and private business online.
I urge you citizens that if you have any issues regarding Telecommunications Services, please go directly to the Operators (TVL or Digicel). If you are still not satisfied, bring it forward to TRR who has the mandate to address your complaints. Likewise in regards to the Government network, if you have any specific issues, bring them forward to the OGCIO and if you are still not satisfied, I encourage you to report to my office, ministry responsible for ICT.
Finally, as Minister responsible, I wish to state that I have not received any complaints from the public, commercial operators or esteemed Members on the current performance of the Office of the Regulator or on the implementation of the Governments UAP. I therefore have full and complete faith in the Regulator of TRR and its staff, and recognize and commend them for the important role that they play within the telecommunications industry.