Today, 23rd February 2022, brought the Caribbean one step closer to reducing roaming charges. CARICOM Heads of Government will be lauded in the annals of history for their leadership in spearheading the Signing of the Declaration of St George’s, Towards the Reduction of Intra CARICOM Roaming Charges, with regional network operators, Digicel Group and Cable & Wireless Communications.
Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada and Lead CARICOM Head of Government with responsibility for Science and Technology; Mr. Kieran Mulvey, Director, Government Affairs, Digicel Group; and Mr. Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President South Caribbean, Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) were signatories to the Declaration.
The Declaration will result in the reduction of intra-CARICOM roaming charges and 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. Importantly, as mentioned by the Digicel and Cable and Wireless’ representatives, citizens’ charges will be predictable and transparent thus resulting in the elimination of severe bill shock that has been experienced in the past.
“As historic as today’s signing is, we still have some critical milestones ahead of us. Ideally, Caribbean leaders want to see the full elimination of roaming charges within the Caribbean Community and we will continue to push for this in the interest of our Caribbean people,” indicated Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell.
CARICOM Citizens will start enjoying the benefits of the reduction of roaming charges as early as the second quarter of this year. According to Prime Minister Mitchell, “Parties to this declaration have agreed on an implementation timeframe between the second and third quarter of this year, giving consideration to the technical aspects of the implementation and the public awareness campaigns that must take place.
CARICOM Heads of Government have long recognised that the ability to roam among the CARICOM States at reasonable costs is an essential characteristic in promoting greater connectivity within the CARICOM Single ICT Space and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, which they are seeking to put in place. Therefore, finalising this agreement as a matter of urgency with the regional operators was a priority objective of the Heads.
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.”
CARICOM Heads of Government had implemented a governance structure to bring the declaration into being in a tight timeframe, which Prime Minister Mitchell lauded the persons who were part of the structure, “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.”
The structure comprised a Prime Ministerial Council of Dr. the Hon. Keith Mitchell and the Hon. Mia 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.