A year after it was announced that Caribbean citizens could soon be paying a fixed rate for roaming, officials are inching closer to it becoming a reality.
Chairman of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy Avinash Persaud reported that progress was being made, but pointed out that it could require some new rules.
He said negotiations were still ongoing with telecommunications providers Digicel and Flow and there was already an indication that they were “in favour” of a single roaming charge.“ I think we are going to get a positive outcome there,” said Persaud, who said it will require “muscular regulations” to help create the space for a fixed rate for roaming.
“We need to tell our telecoms companies, ‘if you want to have a licence to operate in our region one of the quid pro quos is we are not going to let you lose money, but there needs to be some standardization, a single data roaming charge’,” he said.
It was at the 31st CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government in Bridgetown in February last year that Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced the plan, while indicating that current rates were punitive and bankrupting citizens when they travel.
Speaking during an online session recently to dissect aspects of the CARICOM Commission Report on the Economy, Persaud also highlighted the high costs associated with data roaming charges, saying it was about time it was changed if the region was serious about ramping up intraregional travel and trade.
“Actually, the telecoms companies, to be fair to them, they have received that with a certain amount of welcoming. So I think we are not far off that goal,” Persaud told the online forum.
“He said based on the recommendations and new rules being proposed to help fast-track developments across the region, it would only require about one-third of CARICOM members to agree for it to take effect.
Arguing that too many things have been “stuck” in CARICOM over the years, Persaud said, “they have been stuck for so long that they have been out of date and so we need to speed it up”.
He said it was no fault of those in the CARICOM secretariat or governments but it was simply “hard to find unanimity on some of these complex issues”.
“So if five or more states agree we can move ahead.
I think that will move the region faster,” he said.
“One of our biggest proposals in the report is what we call enhanced cooperation where there are 15 member states but if five-member states want to move ahead on an initiative like a single data roaming charge, for instance, they can move ahead as long as what they are doing does not harm the other 10.
“We call that enhanced cooperation. We think it will speed up the Caribbean because at the moment 14 member states can agree to something but one member state could disagree and nothing could move forward,” he explained.
The commission report describes the lack of a single data roaming charge as “a serious impediment” to regional integration and development given the increased value of digital commerce. (MM)