As more Jamaicans become reliant on telecommunication options such as mobile and broadband services, Flow Country Manager Stephen Price is suggesting that deliberate damage to telecommunication apparatus be classified as domestic terrorism.
Price made the declaration at a recent Jamaica Observer Business Forum which examined the issue of infrastructure damage caused by vandals that leave communities isolated without network service, especially now during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Flow and other telecommunication providers have had to contend with an increase in infrastructure damage and theft in recent months which cost millions to replace while disrupting the flow of communication.
“Right now, if someone steals copper or vandalises a site, it’s petty larceny. Really and truly, I want this to be treated as domestic terrorism. When you terrorise citizens of a community and they’re not in contact with their people or the police, it is a very serious issue. The country has to find a way to protect foreign direct investment as this is so important because it keeps students connected for education, it keeps our citizens safe as they can call emergency services and police to protect them from crime. We have to make sure that we find a balance in terms of how we do it. We need the Government to step in,” stated Price.
Flow Jamaica has been replacing its older copper cables with a fibre optic network which Price stated will allow for less lag time and redundancies caused by the issues associated with the current infrastructure. Flow has spent more than US$60 million ($9 billion) over the last three years on upgrades to the critical points of its network as a way to allow for more people to get connected and experience better service.
Head of Finance at Liberty Latin America (LLA) John Durgan revealed that LLA spends about 20 per cent of its revenue in any given year on capital expenditure. LLA generated US$3.8 billion ($570 billion) in revenue for its 2020 financial year.
Price explained the lengths to which Flow must go to protect its infrastructure. One such requirement is sealing manholes in certain communities, which goes against the principle of having it easily opened to facilitate repair and access to any apparatus underground.
“We have a complete plan that is led by Susanna [O’Sullivan] and her team in terms of infrastructure protection. The lengths at which we’ve had to go to protect our equipment is extensive. We’ve had to seal manhole covers shut by putting cement in all of them. We had braces and belts put to cover manholes and on top of generators which are supposed to provide backup power. Every month we have a generator vandalised or stolen, which is not isolated to us alone. It’s something that we have to work with the Government on,” said Price.
He said that Flow has been working with the Government to see how best changes can be made to strengthen the penalties for damage to infrastructure.
According to Price, the effort to protect all of the company’s infrastructure would involve manpower four times the size of the police force which, he noted, is already stretched thin.
He said that Flow engages the Government on a regular basis as it seeks to deepen Internet penetration across the island by 2023.
“The minister of science and technology, Daryl Vaz, has committed with various activities across the board. This includes working with the Ministry of Justice in terms of the various legislations in order to make sure that they are stiffened. We have our asset protection measures which have led to some successes from our own apparatus that has helped us to bring some of these criminals to the law. It is an ongoing fight,” said Price.
Although Flow isn’t focused on bringing 5G to the Jamaican market in the short term, it is open to public private partnerships along with government engagement as the country seeks to expand the spectrum access for communications.
Price said this is critical in order for the country to attract more foreign direct investment as businesses seek more nearshore locations to reduce the risks that were revealed during the pandemic with far offshore hubs.