GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Feb. 26, 2022 - Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell, on Wednesday, signed an agreement with Cable and Wireless and Digicel to reduce roaming charges within the Caribbean, signalling a milestone on the road to total elimination of those charges.
Residents of CARICOM travelling within the region are expected to experience a 70 – 98% saving on roaming charges starting April 2022. This treats with the vexed issues of unpredictable charges associated with roaming and “bill shock”.
The Declaration which was sighed with Director of Government Affairs, DigicelGroup Mr. Kieran Mulvey, and Vice President South Caribbean, Cable & Wireless Communications, Mr. Kurleigh Prescod, could see CARICOM citizens start enjoying the benefits of the reduction of roaming charges as early as the second quarter of this year.
The parties to the Declaration have agreed on an implementation timeframe between the second and third quarter of this year, giving consideration to the technical aspects of implementation and the public awareness campaigns that must take place, Prime Minister Mitchell said at the event.
Dr. Mitchell is the lead Head of Government responsible for Science and Technology in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet and he is spearheading the CARICOM initiative to eliminate roaming charges for CARICOM nationals travelling within the region. Following a mandate from Heads of Government of CARICOM, discussions began in August last year between a CARICOM negotiating team and two of the major telecommunications providers in the Region.
The Prime Minster hailed the signing of the Declaration of St. George’s – Towards the Reduction of Intra CARICOM Roaming Charges, named after the capital of Grenada where it was signed, as an event that had immense significance for the Community. It signalled the beginning of opportunities that the Region should readily embrace, he added.
He explained that the signed declaration meant that citizens of CARICOM will benefit from reduced roaming charges, and was an interim solution that will give impetus to the Region’s march towards the Single ICT Space. In 2014, Heads of Government agreed to establish a CARICOM Single ICT Space, having recognised the critical role that information and communication technology play in our social, cultural and economic development. The Single ICT Space represents the digital arm of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) said the Declaration will also facilitate the provision of seamless mobile (cellular) services, including voice, SMS text and data. CARICOM residents will now roam in CARICOM States at significantly reduced cost, up to 70% saving by one estimate, the CTU said.
“This declaration essentially means that our citizens will have options to use their mobile phones as they move freely within the Single Space at reduced costs. Our citizens will be able to travel without the fear of incurring the normal exorbitant charges for voice and data usage as they conduct business or keep in touch with loved ones. We firmly believe that this critical reduction in roaming charges will help drive digital commerce, regional integration and economic development, and will have an even greater impact when total elimination is achieved,” the Prime Minister said.
Both citizens and policy-makers he said, “welcome today’s declaration as it would make roaming charges more transparent, predictable and affordable within this Single Space.”
He added that CARICOM had to continue to deliver real and tangible benefits to the people of the Region.
“CARICOM must continue to deliver real and tangible, benefits for the citizens of this community. CARICOM must facilitate a space that is conducive to business and leisure – a space for free and easy movement of people, goods and services, including data-driven services, all within an enabling legal and regulatory framework that secures and protects consumers,” he said.
Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, who attended the signing virtually stated, “This a large step but we are short of our destination to eliminate roaming completely. Data bridges are absolutely critical and more so, as a result of the pandemic, we need to keep connectivity going. Data, information and connectivity must be cheap, must be available and must be fast.”
Prime Minister Mottley continued, “CARICOM has negotiated with a local, regional and international industry as one, in the explicit pursuit of its single market and space. We must move on to the next steps of creating a single ICT regulatory environment in CARICOM and ensuring that the cost born by our citizens for telecoms services relate to the cost incurred by telcomms providers, and not have deemed rates of return that are outside the pockets of our citizens.”
Prime Minister Mitchell lauded the persons who participated in the governance structure the CARICOM Heads of Government had implemented to bring the Declaration into being. The structure comprised a Prime Ministerial Council of Dr. Mitchell and PM Mottley; a Ministerial Strategy Group, made up of ICT Ministers from four CARICOM Member States, headed by the President of the CTU, Minister Melford Nicholas, the Minister responsible for ICT in Antigua and Barbuda; an Advisory Working Group, made up of senior technical officers of three CARICOM Member States and senior officials of the CARICOM Secretariat and the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL); and a Negotiating Team, led by Mr. Selby Wilson of the CTU Secretariat.
“On behalf of my colleague Heads of Government and the people of the Caribbean Community, I thank them for that commitment to significantly reduce roaming rates in the region, but I stress again that there is much more to be done as we seek to deliver on our original objective.”
He added, “We have already commissioned a study with the support of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union on the impact of Over the Top services (OTTs) and Big Tech within the regional ICT sector. We have also, with the support of the International Telecommunication Union, commissioned a study on the establishment of a single ICT regulator for CARICOM.”