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Digicel to eliminate Caribbean roaming charges

Published:Friday | August 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Digicel Group, top mobile carrier in the region, has agreed to eliminate roaming charges across its Caribbean markets, starting October 1.

Jamaica's Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who made the announcement in Port-of-Spain on Wednesday in his capacity as president of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), said he hopes to wring a similar concession from the mobile giant in relation to data services.

He is working with a year-end deadline to broker a data-roaming agreement.

Under the agreement to eliminate voice roaming charges, Paulwell said a travelling subscriber would be billed as if the call were dialled locally.

The CTU president said he hopes to wring similar concessions from LIME, which operates in about 13 regional countries. Those negotiations are advanced, he said, at the opening session of the Caribbean ICT Ministers' Forum.

The aim is to abolish roaming for both voice and data regionally by year end, Paulwell advised his colleagues. He is also pushing to eliminate tax charges applied to international mobile calls in Jamaica and Haiti, Digicel's top two markets for subscribers and profit.

Digicel Group declined Financial Gleaner requests for comment on the implications for its revenue and what the telecom gains from the deal.

However, the company issued a release saying it would cancel roaming charges for both the Caribbean and the US.

"We know that ICTs have the power to truly make the world 'flat'," said the CTU president.

"We know that a 10 per cent rise in market penetration of broadband services will roughly correlate to an average GDP increase of 3.2 per cent and a boost in productivity of 2.6 per cent. We also know that greater access to broadband offers greater public engagement in national decision making, reduced bureaucracy, improved transparency and accountability in government, increased social inclusion and the creation of a knowledge-based society."

Fixed broadband penetration is low, ranging from under two per cent in the case of Guyana to 21 per cent for Barbados, according to 2011 International Telecommuni-cation Union data quoted by Paulwell.

Voice penetration is much higher, at an average of 60 per cent regionally, and in Jamaica's case it is above 100 per cent.