Minister of Science and Technology of Trinidad and Tobago, representing The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon. Dr. Rupert Griffith
Fellow Ministers with responsibility for ICT
Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union, Mr. Brahima Sanou
Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, Ms. Bernadette Lewis
Vice-President of INTEL, Mr. John Davies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the Media
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be back here in Port-of-Spain, to join my fellow Ministers of Government at the start of the 2013 Caribbean ICT Ministers’Forum, themed Leveraging ICT for Development in the Caribbean. Already we have had a number of very productive and informative sessions, and I am sure that much more will be accomplished over the next few days. My thanks and congratulations go to CTU Secretary General, Bernadette Lewis and her team for organising this event, but also to our friends and supporters in the ITU, and our hosts, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, without whom this Forum would not take place.
Today, I begin with some good news. Earlier this year, when we gathered here in Port of Spain for the CTU’s 15th General Conference of Ministers, in accepting the position of President of the CTU, I spoke about the issue of intra-Caribbean roaming charges, and called 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.
I am pleased to update on that matter. After some negotiation, Digicel has agreed as of October 1, 2013, the abolition of voice roaming 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.
Also, 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.
Digicel and I will continue to negotiate for the abolition of roaming on data charges, and I hope 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 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.
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.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are living in exciting times. Never before has so much knowledge been so readily available to mankind, and never before have we been as connected as we are today. Due to rapid developments in technology in the past few decades, ICTs today present us with infinite possibilities to improve our lives, our governments, and our businesses; plus endless opportunities to empower our people, to strengthen our democracies, and importantly, to generate wealth.
As leaders, we have an obligation to seek out those opportunities and to convert those possibilities into realities.
We know that ICTs have the power to truly make the world “flat”; that in the very near future, access to broadband Internet will be the most important factor in whether and how much nations and people will be prepared to participate fully in the global knowledge-based digital society.
We know that a 10% 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%.
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.
But for us to truly harness the opportunities and possibilities of ICTS, we as leaders must first begin to treat ICT as a developmental tool that should be widely accessible, affordable and utilized by our people.
We do have some way to go.
According to the International Telecommunication 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.
Mobile or fixed: we must get our people access to broadband Internet and then making productive use of that access. Through effective legislation, policy-making and regulation, but also through region-wide collaborative projects such as HIPCAR and BIIPAC, we have the opportunity to shape our markets and achieve that goal.
Let us use this Forum to share and exchange ideas and best practices, as well as to broaden our collective power to use ICTs for the development of our nation, region and peoples.
I thank you.