Caribbean citizens using their cellphones while travelling throughout the region will soon be paying a fixed rate for roaming.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley made the announcement as she addressed the opening of the 31st CARICOM Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government on Monday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Describing the current rates as punitive, Mottley said existing rates were bankrupting citizens when they travel.
“We recognized and reflected that the roaming rates within this region are punitive and that in many instances people are bankrupt when they go from country to country because they have no idea as to what these roaming rates will present themselves to be,” said Mottley.
She disclosed that Prime Minister of Grenada Dr Keith Mitchell, who has responsibility for telecommunications within CARICOM and his team have been meeting with telecommunication providers in the region to come up with a “modest, fixed, single CARICOM roaming rate” for all nationals.
Flow and Digicel are the two main telecoms providers in the Caribbean, and their roaming packages for prepaid and postpaid customers travelling in the region varies and can go from as little as $40 and reach thousands of dollars, covering outgoing calls, text messages and a fixed amount of data.
They also offer some standard rates to eligible countries.
While officials are yet to settle on what the new flat CARICOM roaming rate will be, Mottley disclosed that it would cover data for “popular social media platforms” including those that offer messaging and calls.
“The rate will include an amount of local and regional voice calls, and over time this CARICOM rate will include more services,” said Mottley.
“This is what it means to be family taking decisions,” she said.
She said once an agreement was reached on the rate and service levels, the operators would make the required changes from their end.
“We have full expectation that the new fixed single CARICOM rate can go live this year,” said Mottley.
She also noted that appropriate legislation in each country should go beyond prices, services and taxes, pointing out that residents should be protected against cyber bullying, disinformation, graphically violent languages and images, hate speech, and discriminatory, racial and xenophobic speech.
“Prime Minister Mitchell and his team shall be working with all of the other organisations within the region and the international community to ensure that we keep abreast of these developments,” said Mottley.
Mitchell later told Barbados TODAY that he was establishing a subcommittee that would have further discussions with the telecoms providers on the standard CARICOM roaming rate.
“Of course, the question of accessing government sites should be zero-rated. We shouldn’t have to pay for this,” said Mitchell.
“And we are looking at ways of working together to obtain financing to move towards, faster than we appear to be doing at this time, having this standard roaming cost throughout the entire region. So it is a proposal we are working on. Prime Minister Mottley already had some discussions so the subcommittee we are establishing under my leadership will be working closely to advance this,” he added.