Grenada: The Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell is at the forefront of a CARICOM initiative to eliminate roaming charges for nationals of the Caribbean in the region.
Dr Mitchell, accompanied by his Barbada counterpart, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, along with representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat and the Caribbean Telecommunication Union, recently met with representatives of Digicel and Cable and Wireless, to discuss the issue.
The removal of roaming tariffs was identified a few years ago as an action for CARICOM heads of government, but progress with the initiative has been fairly slow. Dr Mitchell, who has the primary responsibility in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet for Science and Technology, including information and communication, is now reviving the effort and seeking swift agreement on the initiative.
He told those present: “I would like to point out that, in the light of the history of discussions on this subject, there is a desire to expedite negotiations and conclude them in the shortest possible time, ideally in three months or less, with the aim of before the end of 2021. I believe if we can do that, we will all benefit from it – the service providers will not lose and the region as a whole will feel better about what we are doing at this important level.”
The critical minister proposes to create a “roam-like-home” arrangement, similar to what the European Union has done, and eliminate roaming charges on voice, data and SMS messages.
This arrangement is for CARICOM citizens only and will not include international visitors.
While CARICOM is pushing for the creation of a single ICT space, the removal of roaming tariffs is seen as the key to reducing inefficiencies, lowering costs and increasing productivity as part of the digital transformative initiative.
Dr Mitchell also noted that the lifting of high roaming rates would help unleash creativity among the region’s youth, foster greater collaboration and create high-quality jobs.
The Prime Minister said that the initiative has the full support of all CARICOM chiefs, referring to what he calls ‘strong political support throughout the region’.
He also noted that the removal of roaming tariffs would send a strong signal to Caribbean citizens that leaders are committed to ensuring cost-effective access to the Internet, while promoting the process of regional integration.
PM Mottley, in support of this push for the removal of roaming tariffs, said: “This is one of the key pillars we are currently seeing to unleash growth.”
She referred to the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly reversed growth in many countries, and spoke of the need to stop development.
She said: “The only way to do that is by integrating the digital connection outside the Caribbean and into the world economy.”
The Barbadian leader, like her Grenadian counterpart, is confident that the home-like arrangement will enable Caribbean citizens to realize the true desire of a single Caribbean space, as high costs limit communication and economic activity restrict.
She said the pandemic and the increased dependence on telecommunications clearly illustrate why this conversation is absolutely necessary at the moment.
The representatives of both Cable, Wireless and Digicel expressed their willingness to work with CARICOM to consider the removal of roaming tariffs and to create a ‘win-win partnership’.
Although they noted that there are many other issues to discuss besides roaming, there was the assurance that it would not delay the discussions on the matter.
Prime Minister Mitchell would like to see negotiations begin within two weeks, now that there was a high level of both companies and of CARICOM to continue this initiative, and the companies have agreed to set a meeting date for the start of the technical team discussions.