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Minister of Telecommunications calls on NTRC to act on Mobile Termination Rates

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Contact: Office of the Press Secretary

Friday, November 24, 2006 – Minister of Communications, Works, Public Utilities and Transport, Hon. Felix Finisterre, has written to Saint Lucia’s National Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (NTRC), seeking its support in a move by the Government of St. Lucia to have the island’s telecommunications providers further reduce their mobile termination rates to provide consumers with reduced mobile charges.

The minister, who is responsible for the telecommunications sector, says it was government’s desire “to make telecommunications more affordable.”

“This,” he added, “will better position St. Lucia to be a more internationally competitive jurisdiction in a world economy in which telecommunications is now an essential element in the architecture of development.”

Mr. Finisterre said that since the liberalisation of the telecoms industry in Saint Lucia, “consumers as will as businesses have benefited from a more competitive price regime.”

He said he was therefore “convinced that a review of the Mobile Termination Rates would be another vital step to bring greater benefits to the consuming public and the economy in general.”

Since the Government moved to de-monopolize and regulate the telecommunications industry here several years ago, the advent of competition has resulted in lower rates and better quality services, along with an acceleration of personal and household use of telecommunications equipment and facilities.

Most evident has been the high level of cell phone penetration, which has seen every Saint Lucian who so desires having access to a cell phone and many having more than one. Use of the Internet has also accelerated considerably as the island enters deeper into the world of computers and Information Technology.

Through the National Development Corporation (NDC), the Government has been promoting the island as a favourable destination for offshore data and call centre services. Several such services have been operating here, including call centres and other related services.

The NDC attracted some two years ago, a joint venture call centre operation between KM2 (an American company doing IT services for Fortune 500 and other mega companies in the USA) and Helen IT (a local company). Their operation, which employs hundreds at the Government-owned IT Park at Union, involved doing call centre services for America Online (AOL).

E-Services, a Caribbean company offering IT-related support services to international clients, has also invested in operations here at Massade, Gros Islet. This operation has so far employed 230 Saint Lucians doing support work for major corporations like Xerox and XM Radio in the USA.

NDC’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Vitalis, supports the minister’s contention that reduced rates are good for IT business.

According to Vitalis: “As result of the reduction in telecommunications rates in Saint Lucia and the general liberalization of telecom services, two companies have already brought significant broadband space to Saint Lucia through undersea cables.” These include three sets of undersea fibre optic broadband cables that are at various stages of operation op the island and which are aimed at linking the Caribbean islands from north to south.

He also said that as a result of these developments, “some companies are talking to us (NDC) about bringing multiplicity of services on one line into your home, including Internet, Cable TV and other variations of international digital and Internet telephony.”

The minister is clear about the government’s intention.

Mr. Finisterre says the bid to have the local service providers further reduce their termination rates “is aimed at making telecommunications even more affordable for all Saint Lucians, while at the same time attracting investments in the IT sector because of the competitiveness of our rates.”

The NTRC, the local regulator, is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL), which is the umbrella regulatory body for the five independent member-states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

ECTEL and the NTRC are part of the new telecommunications structures that have been put in place since Saint Lucia led the way in the sub-region’s bid to liberalize the sector and invite competition.

Liberalization of the telecommunications sector in the Eastern Caribbean has seen the arrival of Irish-based Digicel as a fierce competitor with British-based Cable & Wireless, which enjoyed an over-100 year monopoly in the Caribbean before the competition came. Now, competition reigns not only in the OECS, but also in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.

The bullish Irish telecoms upstart has so offered toe-to-toe competition to the British giant everywhere in the Caribbean by establishing a rival modern network, setting up shop next door everywhere the monopoly operates, offering stiffly competitive rates for cell phones – and even wrenching sponsorship of the West Indies cricket team.

Cable & Wireless has not been asleep, however, with the company shaking up its services and rearranging business to suit competitive times.

The two rivals continue to be locked in fierce battle daily, but it’s not a fight the consumers condemn. To the contrary, they just love it. After all, they benefit.

And if the Government and the NTRC get their way, they stand to benefit even more.

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