Local mobile users will have to wait longer to get the luxury of choosing between telecommunications service providers.
The regulating body formed to break-up the monopoly held by Vodafone says they are expecting a delay in approving the licence to another telecommunication provider in the country.
Bernard Hill, the chairman of the Competition and Regulatory Authority, says the collapse of inbound tourism as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on current and likely future telecommunications revenues in Cook Islands.
Hill adds while it remains the Authority’s goal under the new legislation to introduce consumer choice, by licensing additional service providers, “the investment climate is now substantially more tempestuous than it was just a few months ago”.
“Fortunately for the country, notwithstanding the griping against its sole telecommunications supplier, Vodafone is reasonably robust financially and prudently managed in my estimation,” Hill said.
The Competition and Regulatory Authority is going to invite bids for one new full-service mobile operator, to provide head to head, across the board competition with Vodafone, Hill said.
He said to attract the most interest in this opportunity, including interest from experienced and suitably resourced international operators, “they need to see things return to some level of economic normality”.
“We will start a public consultation on the criteria for this new operator, and invite competitive bids for the licence once the economic weather forecast improves.
“At the moment no one is under consideration to be this new mobile telephone operator, and I cannot give definite assurances about when the consultation and subsequent application process will kick off.”
However, the country can look forward to having some level of competitive consumer choice, without waiting for the fully scaled-up mobile telephone services operator to arrive.
Hill said: “The Authority will do this by authorising independent Internet Service Providers to offer internet-based telecommunications services and media content, but not fixed or mobile telephone as such.
“There are a number of local parties who are interested. I expect to have developed a policy and form of authority for these sorts of operations by the end of September. There is not likely to be any limit on the number who can have a go at doing this.”
William Framhein of Orama Limited had earlier confirmed their intention to apply for a licence to rival Vodafone Cook Islands.
However, Framhein said their immediate focus was to “see their ongoing Court matter through”. The Court is set to consider a judicial review on whether to issue Orama Ltd licences for the operations of a cell phone network and satellite communication.