Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Update | Cheaper roaming - Phone calls, data to cost less in Caribbean

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:39 AMBarry Alleyne/Nation Associate Editor

BRIDGETOWN (Barbados Nation):

Phone calls and data access are set to become much cheaper in the Caribbean.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, in her maiden speech as incoming chairman of CARICOM, yesterday revealed that the region’s first across-the-board roaming rate should become a reality later this year.

She noted that Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell was leading the charge in an effort to allow people moving between regional jurisdictions to affordably use telecommunications in general by year end.

Mottley also took the opportunity to advise heads of government colleagues that the Caribbean Community would be able to gain more traction and development once it united as a single front in an effort to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19), crime and violence, non-communicable diseases, regional air and sea transportation, and climate change.

“We believe that our ability to have regional communication that is affordable and accessible is an absolute priority,” she said about the proposed roaming rate.

“It is against that background that we also recognise that the digital economy can play a new and powerful role in the development of our economies,” Mottley told leaders and private-sector officials at the opening of the two-day 31st Inter-sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

“Our teams have been working with operators in the telecommunications sector across the region and, indeed, Prime Minister Mitchell, who is the lead prime minister in this area, has, along with the CSME (CARICOM Single Market and Economy) team, worked with the operators to shortly announce a modest fixed, single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals to cover the cost of data for popular social media platforms, including those that offer messaging and calls,” she said to applause.

Mottley said such a rate was important as the region placed itself in a position to be a global market player, similar to the European Union.

“The rate will include an amount of local and regional voice calls and, over time, this CARICOM rate will include more services. This is what it means to be family taking decisions.

“At Castries (St Lucia), we recognised and reflected that the roaming rates within this region are punitive and that, in many instances, people are bankrupted when they go from country to country because they have no idea as to what these roaming rates will present themselves to be,” the Barbadian leader noted.

She added that once an agreement on the rate and service level was reached, the operators would make the necessary technological changes.

“We have full expectation that the new fixed, single CARICOM rate can go live in this year 2020. The appropriate regulation, however, of the digital economy extends beyond prices, services and taxes,” Mottley said.

Jamaica’s Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Fayval Williams commended the move to pull down Caribbean roaming charges, which she described as “generally high” and a “perennial complaint”.

“Any move to get roaming charges down – to make them lower – I’m sure would be welcomed, but I don’t have any of the details as we speak,” she said, adding that she is awaiting a conversation with the foreign affairs minister, who is leading Jamaica’s delegation at the meeting.

Telecoms Digicel Jamaica and Flow Jamaica have responded favourably to the plans of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to implement a fixed single roaming rate for the region this year.

“We are reviewing our position and will work with all stakeholders in the best interest of customers,” said Kayon Mitchell, Flow senior manager of communications, Jamaica, Bahamas and Cayman.

In a written response, Digicel Group head of communications, Antonia Graham, said the telecom has been in communication with Holness about roaming and other areas vital to the development of the digital economy.

“We look forward to taking these discussions forward to the benefit of consumers and the region as a whole,” the response read.

Editor's note: Digicel has been in communication with Mia Mottley, the Barbados prime minister. It was misconstrued that talks with the prime minister referred to the Jamaican head of government, Andrew Holness. We regret the error.

- Judana Murphy contributed to this story.