The Chief Executive Officer of Digicel, Barry O’Brien, is insisting that popular mobile phone application, Viber, will not get a free ride on its network.
Viber is a free application that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol technology, VOIP, to allow users to make telephone calls and send text messages free of charge.
Last week, both Digicel and LIME blocked the use of the application on their networks, but Viber has pledged to bypass the restriction.
In letters to both major newspapers today, the Digicel boss says his company reached out to Viber almost a year ago, in an effort to collaborate.
Mr. O’Brien says Viber signed an interconnection agreement with his company in December, but has refused to honour it.
He says there are substantial amounts due to Digicel under that arrangement, which Viber refuses to pay.
As a result, he says Viber has left Digicel with no choice but to “protect the interests of Jamaica and to protect our investment in Jamaica. There can be no free lunch.”
Mr. O’Brien adds that Digicel is not prepared to provide a free ride to parties who refuse to pay, and who deprive the Jamaican government of substantial tax revenue.
He did not state how much is owed to to the company under the deal.
However he says once Viber agrees to pay, Digicel will lift the ban and allow customers to use the app.
Mr. O’Brien is calling on Viber and its CEO, Talmon Marco, to pay the outstanding sums for traffic under the agreement.
Earlier this week, Mr. Marco took to Twitter to announce that Viber would defy the ban by Digicel.
He said the Viber system automatically notices such blocks and bypasses them eventually.
But when our news centre tried to download the app today, we received an error message.
That’s an indication that the service remains blocked in Jamaica.
According to figures on the Google Play store, Viber has been downloaded over 100-million times globally via that platform.
Meanwhile, local reactions on social media are mostly supportive of Viber.
In response to Mr. O’Brien’s letter, one person on Twitter said, “Since you’re so hell bent on singling out Viber, prove to us that other VOIP providers are paying.”
Other VOIP services include the Microsoft-owned Skype, Apple’s Face Time on the iPhone and iPad and Google Talk.
Another Twitter user commented, “If Google, Microsoft and Apple have made a local investment and are not parasitic, let us know. If not, why attack Viber?”
Digicel and LIME have not specifically stated what agreements they have with other VOIP companies.
An online petition directed at State Minister for Technology, Julian Robinson, the Office of Utilities Regulation,and Mr. O’Brien, has received over 200 signatures so far.
The petitioners are arguing that on the principle of net neutrality, the telecoms companies should not discriminate against Viber or charge differently for its use.
But the Digicel boss disagrees.
In his letter today, he says, “This is absolutely not a question of censorship.”
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