By Kadeem Joseph

Antiguans and Barbudans and other residents of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping are expected to benefit from a standardised telecommunications roaming rate this year.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister of Barbados and Caricom Chairman Mia Mottley on Tuesday morning during the 31st Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community being held in Barbados.

She explained that the Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, who is the lead prime minister on the issue, has along with the Caricom Single Market and Economy team, worked with the telecoms operators “to shortly announced a modest fixed single Caricom roaming rate for all Caricom nationals”.

PM Mottley said the rate is expected to cover the cost of data for popular social media platforms, “including those that offer messaging and calls”.

The Barbadian prime minister said that the rate will also include a number of local and regional voice calls, however, over time, the number of services included in the standardisation agreement will increase.

The Caricom chairman said that the roaming rates in the region are “punitive” in their present configuration.

“In many instances people are bankrupted when they go from country to country because they have no idea as to what these roaming rates will present themselves to be,” she explained.

“Once we have reached agreement on the rate and service level, the operators will make the necessary technological changes.”

The member states of Caricom are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, St Lucia, Suriname, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Meanwhile, Mottley admonished that the regulation of the digital economy goes beyond regulating prices, services and taxes and includes protecting Caricom residents from cyber bullying, disinformation, graphically violent language and images, from hate speech, discriminatory and racial and xenophobic language.

“Prime Minister Mitchell’s 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,” the prime minister said.

The issue of hefty roaming rates has long been a sore point for residents in the region with Dominica’s Kelver Darroux, who was serving as that country’s telecommunications minister, calling for “tremendous emphasis” on the issue within Organisation of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) territories. The St Lucia-based OECS Commission also called for the removal of roaming fees attached to mobile calls between the nine-member sub-regional grouping in 2015.