Monday Dec 10

CCJ rules against regulator in Belize telecommunications dispute


PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CCJ) -- The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) last week delivered its judgment in the case of Speednet Communications Limited v Public Utilities Commission. The CCJ, the highest appellate court in Belize, reversed the Court of Appeal and found that Speednet Communications Limited proved its case.
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The Public Utilities Commission is the regulator for the telecommunications industry in Belize, while Speednet Communications is a private telecommunications services provider in that nation. The Court ordered the Public Utilities Commission to refund Speednet Communications the sum of BZ$792,000 (US$394,000), less the lawful licence fee of BZ$1,400.

The dispute between the parties arose out of a difference in interpretation of the relevant regulations, which set out the licence fees of BZ$100 per ‘channel’. According to the Public Utilities Commission, the term ‘channel’ referred to ‘voice’ channel, while Speednet Communications argued that it meant ‘radio frequency’ channel, which would mean that BZ$1,400 would be the total appropriate fee.

In a decision acknowledged by the Court to have “potentially significant implications for the telecommunications industry and the wider economy”, the CCJ rejected the view of the trial judge and the Court of Appeal in Belize and found that the term ‘channel’ could refer to either ‘voice’ channel or ‘radio frequency’ channel.

The Court determined that the Public Utilities Commission, as the author of the regulations, should bear the consequences of the ambiguity and would therefore be entitled to only charge BZ$100 per ‘radio frequency’ channel.

The CCJ noted that while this finding was not necessarily the technologically correct definition of the word ‘channel’, which could not be determined on the basis of the evidence before the Court, it was the most appropriate meaning based on the application of legal principles to the wording in the regulations.

The full decision of the Court and a Judgment Summary can be accessed via the CCJ’s website at www.ccj.org

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