Member states of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) plan on taking a bolder approach to regulate a more robust and efficient ‘digital economy’ in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.
Infrastructure and Telecommunications Minister, Stephenson King, the incoming Chairman of ECTEL, updated reporters on the latest developments in the sub-region.
He acknowledged the significance of this ‘milestone achievement’ with introduction of the new Electronic Communications (EC) Bill that is initially being promulgated in the member state of St Kitts/Nevis.
“This is a pivotal moment in the development of the telecommunications sector as we transition from a regulatory regime that was successful in the liberation of the sector and promoting competition, to a regulatory regime that will provide the foundation for the digital transformation of the economies in the ECTEL member states,” declared King.
“Over the past 21 years sector regulation has delivered several winds to consumers, including fixed broadband and mobile penetration communication, significant reduction in calling rates, increased fixed broadband and speeds, introduction of new technology such as 4G and more recently, increased customer choice with the introduction of Mobile Number Portability in 2019,” he added.
Noting that the electronic communications sector has also contributed significantly to ECTEL’s economic growth in the five ECTEL member states, the ECTEL chairman asserted: “In the past five years, service providers have invested an average of $136 million annually across the ECTEL states, while providing full employment for more than 780 people.
“In the past eight months, whilst we lived through the unprecedented global pandemic, access to broadband service proved to be a lifeline as many accept that, that aspect of modern day life could only continue thanks to the shift to digital services.”
King continued, “Across the ECTEL member states, the sector showed some level of resilience as to some extent the service providers were able to meet increase in demand on the network.”
However, he said, the pandemic identified a significant disparity amongst households “ where persons were able to transition almost seamlessly to online learning and working from home and households where persons had either limited access to broadband service or could not afford broadband access.”
King said, “Challenges with quality of service and quality of customer experiences also proved to be a significant hurdle for customers.”
Cognizant of the importance of the digital service sector, especially in these times of crisis, King said: “ECTEL is mindful of these challenges and the new Electronic Communications Regulatory regime recommended to all the member states will provide the NTRCs with the tools needed to address a number of these issues.”
Cheryl Hector Fontenelle, ECTEL’s acting General Manager, noted that the role of the sector “as the foundation for the digital economy” was brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said there lies a “very ambitious work plan” in store for the ECTEL council and the National Telecommunication Regulatory Commissions -NTRCs to perform in this global transition.
“The main focus of this work plan will be the transition to a new regulatory system with the promulgation of the EC Bill in our member states,” Fontenelle said.
Koretta Crooks-Charles, ECTEL’s Communications and Media Relations Manager noted that information and technology (ICTs) apparatus play an important role “for the continued participation of societies.”
However, she said, “With the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is much clearer now. Plus, what is even more evident is the disparity between countries where ICT is concerned.”
ECTEL performs the role of the ‘regulatory body’ for electronic communications in its five-member states, namely; Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts/Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Charles disclosed that one of ECTEL’s major projects, at this time, is advocating for all member states to pass the Electronic Communications Bill or the EC Bill.
She explained that this bill “will ensure that the ECTEL Regulatory System can have a more robust mechanism for regulating the activities of electronic providers and operators and ensuring protection of consumers’ rights.”