“Before liberalisation, Cable & Wireless had exclusive long-term licences and provided all telecommunications services (local and international) in all OECS states; high tariffs even on local calls; no regulations and no recourse for consumers”; so said the feature speaker, Dr. James (Jimmy) Fletcher, as he skillfully recounted the journey of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) at its Inaugural Anniversary Lecture on May 4, 2022. The theme for the lecture in observance of ECTEL’s 22nd Anniversary was “The Electronic Communications Bill: From Liberalisation to Digital Transformation”.
Dr. Fletcher, the Managing Director of SOLORICON and former Chairman of ECTEL’s Council of Ministers, gave a riveting lecture that highlighted the many tangible benefits of liberalisation to residents of ECTEL’s Member States. He explained that it is important for the public to understand how ECTEL paved the way for other service providers to enter the electronic communications market in the region, and how, because of the competition, consumers were able to enjoy a reduction in prices and an improvement in the services being offered. Dr. Fletcher noted that it is also vitally important for ECTEL’s story to be told, because when it was formed it was the first of its kind in the world – a multi-country telecommunications regulator; this he said is a significant achievement.
He went on to emphasise the urgent need for the Governments of ECTEL’s five Member States, namely the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to pass and effectively implement the Electronic Communications Bill, also known as the EC Bill. On 18th February 2021, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis passed the Electronic Communications Act (EC Act). “It is not right for a sector that is moving at the pace that this one is moving to take 13 years to finalise an Electronic Communications Bill. Pass the legislation and amend it as we go along,” said Dr. Fletcher. He closed his address by saying that “we are poised to move ahead with this digital economy because we have a very sturdy, stable and reliable regulator, and a populace, especially our youth who are entrepreneurial, and as such, we have to create an opportunity for them to take advantage of those spaces that the digital economy is creating.”
Also on hand to deliver the opening remarks was the current Chairman of ECTEL’s Council of Ministers and Senior Minister in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Transport, Physical Development and Urban Renewal in Saint Lucia, Honourable Stephenson King.
According to Minister King:
“No organisation can be successful without dedicated, visionary, highly motivated and committed people. As I congratulate ECTEL, I want to recognise the late Prime Minister Roosevelt Douglas of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Keith Mitchell of Grenada, former Prime Minister Dr. Denzil L. Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis, former Prime Minister Dr. The Honourable Kenny D. Anthony of Saint Lucia and the late former Prime Minister James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the five Prime Ministers who signed the ECTEL Treaty back in 2000. They had the foresight to recognise that, as a whole, the ECTEL Member States could accomplish more for their citizens than any one Member State could alone.”
Some of ECTEL’s achievements over the years which were brought to the fore during Minister King’s remarks included:
(i) ECTEL’s commitment to affordable electronic communications services for all, and its recommendations for reductions in the price of fixed services and the slowing of potential increases in mobile and broadband services. This year, ECTEL recommended new mobile safeguards, which require all mobile service providers to inform customers when they are using a service out of plan, to reduce the likelihood of a customer unknowingly depleting their prepaid credit;
(ii) in 2007, ECTEL recommended a framework for Universal Service Funds in all the Member States, and has worked with the five National Telecommunications Regulatory Commissions (NTRCs) to develop a Universal Service Fund in each Member State. The USF, as it is called, allows for fees collected from service providers to be used to fund projects aimed at expanding affordable access to electronic communications services and devices. Since the launch of the USFs, a number of low-income households, persons with disabilities, schools, community access points, and health centres, have benefited from free or low-cost, high-quality internet access. The continuing need for the USF was emphasised during the COVID-19 pandemic, and several students were able to participate in remote learning using devices and subsidised services provided by the USF; and
(iii) in 2019, ECTEL implemented Mobile Number Portability across all Member States. This was a significant milestone in the development of the sector, as number portability provides benefits to service providers and consumers alike. Consumers are now free to change service provider and keep their mobile number, relieving them of the aggravation of having to notify family, friends, and clients that their number has changed. Mobile number portability also lowers the barriers to market entry, as a new service provider may find it easier to attract customers if they can keep their numbers.
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