Claro President Enrique Ortiz de Montellano publicly urged consumers Wednesday to continue exerting pressure on the Telecommunications Regulatory Board to issue the cable franchise license the company requested nearly three years ago to deploy its Internet Protocol TV service.
The usually reserved executive was adamant about the fact that because the agency has taken so long to resolve the issue, Puerto Rico has fallen behind, technologically speaking, other Latin America and Caribbean countries in its ability to offer IPTV under the ClaroTV brand, considered a cutting-edge service.
“We need to continue pressuring because doing that impelled the agency two months ago to say the license would be granted,” Ortíz de Montellano said during an exchange with members of the Puerto Rico Internet Society. “But ‘will do it’ to ‘done’ are two different things.”
Despite confirming in late August that it had agreed to grant Claro its petition, the agency has yet to issue the official decision. Repeated calls to TRB President Sandra Torres in the last two weeks for an update on the application have gone unanswered.
“It has not been approved, the status hasn’t changed, we’re still in the same place we were three years ago, without a permit,” Ortiz de Montellano noted. “Because we’re part of this process, it’s tough to educate consumers but we’re urging them to help us get the word out about IPTV.”
Claro has been pursuing a cable television franchise license since February 2008. However, its application at the TRB was met with stiff opposition by competitors and cable companies, especially Onelink Communications, which expressed concern about the language it contained.
The San Juan metropolitan area cable company challenged Claro’s petition all the way to the Supreme Court, which in December 2010 reverted the case back to the TRB. The agency held several public hearings asking Claro for additional information, vowing to make a decision in early September.
Among other things, Onelink claimed Claro sought to force customers to have to subscribe to a bundle of services if they wanted IPTV, something Ortiz de Montellano denied Wednesday.
“That’s false and we cleared that up with the Board. We will sell television service alone to whoever wants it, but the way things are today, it is usually beneficial for consumers to sign up to a package of services that promote discounts and value,” the telecom executive said.
Onelink also complained that Claro began building a network prior to getting permission, thus violating local telecom laws. Claro has reportedly invested $70 million in its television infrastructure, including satellite technology with which it launched ClaroTV a year ago, circumventing the TRB’s jurisdiction.
Dominican Republic ahead of the game
Claro requested permits to launch its IPTV service simultaneously in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which gave the Mexican carrier the go-ahead two years ago, Ortíz de Montellano said.
“Today, Santo Domingo has better telecom technology in place than Puerto Rico does, believe it or not,” he said. “I know Puerto Ricans are very proud of their island, but Dominicans have beaten them in this case.”
In the neighboring island nation, Claro offers television service via satellite and IPTV, which it would also do throughout Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.
“With satellite, we have the island covered, but we would be moving IPTV along as we expand the service,” he said.
This year, Claro has invested $250 million in infrastructure, including facilities to deliver fiber optic to the home. The company is projecting a $200 million investment in 2012 “to put Puerto Rico among the top countries in terms of technology,” Ortiz de Montellano said.