Can I have MY number?

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broken-cell-phone
Current state of telecom regulating agencies

Mobile Number Portability (MNP) – the ability to change carriers without having to change your phone number – is becoming a hot topic of debate all over the world. In Latin America, several countries have already implemented this regulation, and many more are well on their way to doing so. This is particularly important for Venezuela given that 98% of the population has access to mobile phones, and there are now more mobile numbers that there are Venezuelans.

MNP is a crucial issue, one where it is likely to find a consensus. In spite of that, it is being completely overlooked by political forces and regulatory agencies beholden to the forces of obscurantism. Given that it is a measure that takes time to implement, Venezuela is on its way to becoming the last country to implement MNP.

I guess when you’re too busy figuring out how to have a reliable stock of toilet paper, other things fall by the wayside.

MNP is not a difficult concept. It allows you and me to own our number. It also helps the consumer by lowering the cost of switching carriers. What do you do when you get expensive crappy service? Well, you take your business somewhere else. But if you can’t take your number with you, you are almost “locked in” with your current provider.

Sneaky companies like to lock-you-in. It is not an odd practice. Printers are cheap because printer manufacturers know that they will profit on the cartridges. Same thing goes for razors, electronics, and even gas turbines. Economists have long studied this phenomenon, and legislation has adapted to prevent consumers from being locked in.

Here is where regulation can be great. Good regulation happens when it is justified by the public interest, usually leading to an overall increase in public welfare. MNP is great for you and for me because we get better, cheaper services. It is not great for lazy companies, because they have to work harder and compete. They are forced to innovate to make you and me happier. Some companies will dig that, most will not.

MNP has decreased the overall cost in mobile services by effectively reducing the cost of changing providers and leveraging competition. It is not a panacea and it requires a lot of previous thinking, study and active regulation. When done right, its effects are incredibly positive.

But why are we lagging?

Our problems begin with the regulator (Conatel) on two accounts. The first is its structure, and two, its obscurantism.

Its structure is more geared for media censorship than for actual regulation. In doing this, Conatel fails in that the overall increase in welfare is not on its agenda. The second, most tragic one, is its fundamental prejudice against markets, the denial that they exist and that they function with pretty well understood rules. This is a government that continues to blame plane crashes on gravity, for crying out loud.

A good friend of mine likes to say that is not that the Venezuelan government is large or small – it is simply misplaced (desubicado). It is not that it does a lot or a little – it is simply doing things that it ought not be doing. Instead of regulating markets so you and me are happier, and pushing industries to be better, the state is busy trying to make ice cream. The regulating agencies, in their obscurantism, doesn’t simply fail to empower the users, it chooses to leave us out and impede the provider’s proper development by ignoring good regulation fundamentals.

MNP is a good thing for all – consumers, the government, and ultimately, companies. It is time we start talking about it.

1 COMMENT

    • Nah man, I’m ok with this kind of articles. We shouldn’t be so close minded. There are other fish in the water! Besides, it’s a really interesting subject, but not an isolated article. Rodrigo relates it with the current politics in Vzla.

    • Being there a gazillion analyst and journos reacting and commenting about what the government is doing and undoing I have found a comfortable and roomy niche on the proposition space.

      I have been waiting a comment like yours to elaborate on this. I feel this era is almost over. When it ends I would like to have an idea of what we want. Do we only want to have different people in the government and make everything else the same? Or do we want actually different things not just different people. If the current people started doing different things (I personally think that a great majority is incapable of) would we me then be content? If it is different results what we seek, what are does results?

      In concrete, what type of country would you like Venezuela to be?

      • I wholeheartedly agree. An important consequence of chavismo and the lack of any political functioning outside of their agenda is that Venezuela has been lagging behind the region, even when it had a relative head-start. If Venezuela magically returned to normal democracy by tonight, it would still be five or ten years behind the rest of the region. The problems won’t just disappear if chavismo loses power. And it’s not a matter of ideology, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Chile, have all made big advances in the past decade.

      • Do you know what’s absolutely mental?

        A couple of million Venezuelans believe in this kind of propaganda rubbish:

        “Acceso a nuevas tecnologías: En 1999, sólo 680.000 personas tenían acceso a la Internet: el 2,1% de la población. En 2009, nuestro país penetraba en Internet con 8,8 millones de usuarios y usuarias: el 31,2% de la población venezolana.”

        I am sure a lot will say that before Chávez came to power in Venezuela there was no Google or Twitter and now, thanks to the “revolution”, millions of Venezuelans can tweet and google (even if – they won’t say it – Venezuela’s average Internet speeds are way below what you would have if you lived in Timbuktu, Mali or Kigali, Rwanda, right now.

        • yes! Internet speed is terrible and no clear signs of improvements are on sight.

          Also, there is a huge ordeal on how the cellphone frequencies have been distributed (very poorly) and now we have capacity issues.

          • But the thing I want to stress here is not so much the speed – among the slowest on Earth – but the fact Chavismo has the chutzpah of using such preposterous numbers about “progress” when 1) the WWW for most people was just starting in 1995-98 all over the world and 2) if you compared virtually any figure about technical progress from Venezuela with the rest of the world then and now you will see Venezuela is moving much slower than virtually everyone else.

      • I deeply agree with that sentiment.

        There’s widespread confusion on ends and means.

        My goal is NOT changing the guy on top with a different guy. My goal is to have a change in POLICY, since the current government is too inflexible, changing the guy on top is a way for me to get a change in policy.

        I’m not in this just to put Capriles in charge of currency controls, price controls, import paperwork, export permits; or having him appoint different Viceroys (Capital District, Corpomiranda, etc); or having him renew the board of directors of public companies. For me, he’d have to do that but only as a pre-requisite to liquidate/privatize/decentralize those entities, which would be the change in policy.

        That’s why I would like the opposition to propose the kind of solutions the country needs and convince the people with actual proposals. If the government ignores the proposals, then the people will vote the government out of office, if the government welcomes the proposals, we get a change in policy and the country benefits.

        Our opposition focuses too much on winning the election and too little on influencing policy.

      • I think we are precisely at the right political moment to talk about these things. Unless the current spirit of protest actually turns the country on its head (soñar no cuesta nada), the opposition is now pretty much “sin oficio”. Right now should be the moment to start talking to everyone, everywhere, about anything it is we want to say. Telecommunication? Sure thing! Internet speed? Bring it on! Environmental policy? Definitely! Gender Issues? Right on!

        Let’s be honest, as soon as we get into campaign mode any message the opposition has to tell gets dumbed down, reduced to the absurd. So, if we want to grow as a robust movement, we need to do it when it’s not time to campaign. When we can actually afford to openly and seriously criticize each other. When we can finally tell some of the leaders of the Unidad to go suck a lemon for a while. When elections come again, we’ll get together again, I’m sure. In the meantime, I for one welcome some stimulating discussion with open arms.

  1. This kind of subject is refreshing for us readers of CC. It’s an interesting technology analyzed from the perspective of our inefficient government. Congrats!

  2. I get the benefits of MNP and I know most countries have it. But there’s a slight tradeoff that comes with it: people will no longer be able to identify what carrier a particular number belongs to. Isn’t this potentially hurtful for consumers? Unless, of course, we eventually end up in a flat-rate-calls model like in the U.S., where you can call any operator for the same price.

    • “people will no longer be able to identify what carrier a particular number belongs to”

      That’s currently the case with local phone providers. CANTV is the historic incumbent of copper wire telephony, but some cable providers like Inter and Netuno offer wired local telephony over cable; while CANTV, Movistar and Digitel offer wireless local telephony.

      Those local numbers use the same area prefix CANTV uses, and you can’t really tell them apart just by looking at the number. There’s usually either flat per minute rate or a plan with some minutes for local calls (regardless of the carrier on the other end); but some carriers offer some free/discounted minutes to phone numbers from the same provider.

      More than sorting out how are customers going to be charged, I’m concerned about the numbering scheme: if current numbers would maintain a prefix that would associate them historically to a provider they no longer have, or be rebooted (partially defeating the purpose); and what prefix would be used when purchasing a new mobile number (does each carrier retain issuing rights to their prefixes even if they lose retention rights?). These are the kind of questions better answered by the regulatory agency instead of the individual telecom providers.

  3. Do not forget that in 97-99 most of Internet was dialup, very expensive, and you needed a dedicated phone line for it to be effective….

    Another issue you could comment on: Drinking water quality and seasonal water rationing , due to seasonal drought from now until rainy season (April – May) – talk about lack of planning …

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