The Opposition spokesman on commerce and international business, Kerrie Symmonds, wants cell phone number portability for Barbadians, insisting the issue needs to be addressed urgently to improve the local business environment.
He made the call following confirmation last weekend from Jamaica’s Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell that by the end of May residents of that Caribbean island would be able to move with their numbers when switching providers.
Paulwell said number portability was among the conditions the Jamaica government imposed for the LIME/Flow merger.
With the decision of the Fair Trading Commission on the merger here pending at the end of this month, Symmonds said Barbadians would be left behind if similar conditions were not attached to the US$3 billion fusion of the telecommunications companies.
“There is no logical explanation for agreeing to a number portability arrangement in Jamaica while trying to resist it in Barbados,” Symmonds told Barbados TODAY.
“This goes against the grain of not only what we are trying to achieve at the CARICOM level but it goes against the grain of what we should be trying to achieve at a host nation level, because Barbados has played host to Cable & Wireless/LIME for a number of years. They have reaped enormous profits out of Barbados, and the question now has to be asked, ‘why is it that they are prepared to abide by number portability elsewhere but continue to resist it down here?’”
The St James Central MP noted that the idea was considered in 2001 at the time of liberalizing the local telecommunications market, but no progress had been made.
He said the FTC now has the opportunity to give Barbadians the option.
“If you are going to have the merger, we may not be able to stop it, but the fact of the matter is that you now have to meet certain minimum standards of operations in the country,” Symmonds said.
He suggested that the absence of the number portability facility would negatively affect business.
Emphasizing the importance to small and micro businesses to the Barbados economy, Symmonds said that many operators used cell phones more than landlines, and this was the principal form of contact for customers.
“So that in a real sense your number becomes part of your identity. If, however, I am not able to express my dissatisfaction with a particular service provider and end my contractual relationship with that provider and go elsewhere, I am being disadvantaged,” he said.
Symmonds said there was also a need for a common standard of service across CARICOM.
“It would now be economically disadvantageous for people who are trading outside of Jamaica because of the fact that there is a higher standard of service which is being offered within Jamaica,” he said.
“You can’t have so many different levels of service within one market place. It is almost as if in the parish of St George in Barbados you get one type of service, but it would be accepted that you would not get it in the parish of St James. That just wouldn’t make sense.”