Following two tough days of public hearings on Claro’s petition for a cable operator franchise license to launch its paid television service via broadband, the Telecommunications Regulatory Board announced Tuesday it will issue its decision within the next two weeks, News is my Business learned.
In other words, before the end of August, Puerto Rican consumers should learn whether the IPTV service will be allowed to enter the market to compete head-on with cable television providers islandwide.
If approved, it would put an end to a three-year process that began in 2008, when Puerto Rico Telephone, which does business as Claro, applied for the license. However, unsurprisingly, it faced stiff opposition from competitors, especially San Juan cable television provider OneLink Communications.
“What I’ve said all along is that regardless of what the decision may be, it needs to be made because it’s overdue. Franchise regulations say the board must act in 180 days. It has been six months since we got the case back from the Supreme Court,” said TRB President Sandra Torres, referring to the last time the court intervened in the battle between OneLink and Claro.
Pressure has been building upon the TRB to make a decision, reaching a boiling point Monday when several people testified in favor of granting Claro its license, with which it will deploy Claro TV.
Tempers flared among the TRB’s presiding members as well, with Associate Member Vicente Aguirre walking out after a heated exchange with PRT’s legal representatives, who on Tuesday asked him to recuse himself from the rest of the proceedings.
In their argument, PRT’s lawyers claimed Aguirre was “biased and had already pre-judged the case.” However, Aguirre remained, saying despite his anger toward PRT, he was still capable of making an objective decision.
Monday’s hearing was also peppered with staunch objections to allowing Claro into the cable television market from OneLink and WorldNet, which are concerned over the possibility that Claro will recur to cross-subsidizing to float its new IPTV business with revenue generated from other profitable — and unregulated — segments. Doing so would put the carrier at a competitive advantage in comparison to existing industry players, the companies claimed, among other things.
However, the TRB and the Federal Communications Commission have laws and regulations in place to identify the existence of cross-subsidizing.
“We have the mechanisms within our reach to make sure that once the franchise is granted, it can be conditioned,” said Torres, noting the agency can require Claro to go through a probation period and submit periodical reports showing where the money is coming from to finance the new line of business.
“What we can not do is eternally put off a decision,” she said, noting the board has the authority to establish how long the franchise license will be valid.