Digicel to abolish voice roaming charges within CARICOM

Come October 1, Digicel subscribers travelling within CARICOM will no longer have to pay roaming charges for voice calls.
Jamaican Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell made the announcement yesterday at the start of the 2013 Caribbean ICT Ministers’ Forum being held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

“After some negotiation, Digicel has agreed as of October 1, 2013, the abolition of voice roaming (charges) on Digicel’s network in Caricom countries. Each traveling subscriber will be treated as if he is using his local/domestic Digicel network throughout the region and therefore will be billed accordingly,” the minister said, according to a copy of his speech made available to Stabroek News. The ministry, in an official statement, subsequently confirmed the agreement.

Paulwell, who is also the president of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union recalled speaking earlier this year at CTU’s 15th General Conference of Ministers about the issue of intra-Caribbean roaming charges, and calling on the regional telecoms companies to remove those charges. “Those charges hinder affordable communication between Caribbean people, and as we move toward greater regional unity, we must take every opportunity to remove the barriers that keep us apart,” he said.

In announcing the agreement with Digicel, Paulwell noted that there are two countries – Jamaica and Haiti – where taxation now applies on international calls. “We will start negotiations in both countries to remove this taxation so the full benefits will flow to these nationals,” he said.

The minister added that negotiations for the abolition of roaming on data charges will continue and he hopes to achieve this by year-end. “This move by Digicel is commendable, and is definitely a step in the right direction. We have also engaged LIME (the region’s other major telecoms provider) in negotiations, and those discussions are quite advanced as well. The overall aim is to abolish roaming for both voice and data, and the objective is to achieve this by year end,” Paulwell said.

“Although having those fees abolished will enable and encourage greater inter-regional communication, today I challenge Caribbean peoples, governments and telecoms operators alike: let us begin to think beyond voice telephony. Let us divest ourselves of this pre-occupation with voice and pursue what really should be our true goal: affordable and ubiquitous broadband Internet access,” the minister added.

He said that ICTs today present the Caribbean with infinite possibilities to improve lives, governments, and businesses, plus endless opportunities to empower people, to strengthen democracies, and importantly, to generate wealth.

The minister said that to truly harness the opportunities and possibilities of ICTS, leaders must first begin to treat ICT as a developmental tool that should be widely accessible, affordable and utilized by people and there is some way to go in this regard.

“According to the International Telecommuni-cation Union (ITU)—ICT World Indicators, 2011—the penetration rate of fixed broadband services in the Caribbean Region ranges from less than 2 per cent in Guyana and 11 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago to 21 per cent in Barbados. We are challenged to improve that significantly, mindful that in the Caribbean, where our mobile penetration rate as a region is well over 60 per cent – in some countries, like Jamaica, well over 100 per cent – the best opportunity to quickly increase the penetration and usage of broadband Internet may very well rest in the mobile market,” he said.

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