The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority, ECTEL turned 15 on May 4th, 2015. It was exactly fifteen years ago that leaders of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and The Grenadines signed on to the Treaty establishing the regulatory body.
The historic Treaty was signed in St. George’s, Grenada. It provides for harmonised laws and functions, coordinated resources management and facilitates open entry, competition and development of a single space for investment in the five sovereign states.
ECTEL is the regulating body for telecommunications in its Member States, and the world’s only multi-state telecommunications regulator. Its main objective is to encourage open entry, market liberalisation and competition in Member States.
Saint Lucian Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, was among other Prime Ministers who were at the helm of telecommunications reform and led the fight in an environment, which, at the time, was characterised by high prices for telephone calls, inefficient, unreliable and slow internet service and most importantly, the existence of a monopoly and the accompanying nonchalance and poor customer service.
Speaking at the opening of ECTEL’s fifteenth anniversary conference in May, the Prime Minister reminisced about the challenges of liberalisation, and paid homage to ‘ECTEL pioneers’ and ‘warriors of liberalisation’, singling out his former Minister of Public Utilities and Chair of the ECTEL Council of Ministers - Calixte George.
“Fifteen years ago when these five small island states solidified the liberalization of telecommunications through the ECTEL Treaty signed in Grenada, telecommunications was at a cusp and we needed to be riding on the wave and not remain on the backwash of technology,” Dr Anthony noted.
“We knew that our populations were being shortchanged due to the absence of competition and effective market regulation. We knew too that we had backward and outdated technology,” he added.
Noting that the reality of pre-liberalisation was quite different then than what it is today, the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia urged participants at the conference to keep abreast of the ever changing technology since we are still somewhat behind in comparison with the rest of the world.
He believes that in order for us to do so as a region, we should pool our resources more.
“We ought to collaborate however we can, we cannot be left behind if we believe in the transformative power of information and communications technology to our entire socio-economic milieu,” Prime Minister Anthony said.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that broadbrand has become central to nation building and while it will be driven largely by market competition and good regulation the State must play its part in securing the best deals for all citizens.
“ECTEL has been a remarkable creation of regional states. It has served our sub region well. However, it must always remember that it was created to serve the people of the region,” the Prime Minister cautioned.
Hon. Gregory Bowen, Chairman of the ECTEL Council of Ministers (2014 -2015) has identified the role of ECTEL beyond simple regulation of the sector. In his address at the opening of the fifteenth anniversary conference he stated, “Our Governments remain committed to ensuring a robust electronic communications sector that benefits each and every citizen in our respective jurisdictions. We are indeed “Committed to Broadband and Open Access in A Digital World.” Surely, while there has been increased telecommunications services within our space, with mobile voice being near universal, universal access to broadband services will occupy our attention going forward.”
Since its inception ECTEL has achieved a significant amount of milestones and has granted hundreds of licences to private and public sector providers. One of its major achievements is the implementation of the Universal Service Fund (USF). Established in accordance with the Telecommunications Act, this initiative serves to ensure the widest possible access to telecommunications at an affordable rate. The fund is managed by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission – NTRC, and in each Member State. Projects ranging from provision of Internet service in rural communities including resource centers, schools and community centers, rehabilitation of Youth Skills Training Centers, provision of ICTs for persons with disabilities and installation of payphones to underserved areas, have all been successfully implemented in Member States.
The ECTEL Directorate, which is based in Saint Lucia, publishes annually a review of the performance of the telecommunications and electronic communications sector in the ECTEL Member States. This document has mapped the growth in the patterns of consumption of services, and the growth in investment in the sector. The sector review has become a significant information source for policy makers and researchers.
During the past five years there has been a deepening of the collaboration with regulatory and policy agencies in Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat on a range of issues such as spectrum management, numbering and pricing of telecommunications services.
Managing Director Embert Charles is of the view that ECTEL’s achievement over the last fifteen years can best be assessed by looking at what would have happened had the entity not been in existence.
“One of the key measurements we can look at is the significant drop in mobile rates from the time mobile was introduced into the region to now. I think we also need to look at the extent to which the ordinary person has access to communication facilities that can reach out to family across the islands as well as across the region, “ Charles asserts.
He adds: “If you look at the figures as well there has been a significant investment in the telecoms sector. We have had new investors coming in and there is still an interest in investing in the sector because of the changes in technology.”
He notes that there are a few areas that need to be worked on, but the fact remains that the region has been able to better come together as we can now communicate at a more rapid rate and at a more affordable price than we could, more than fifteen years ago.
According to Charles, who has been at the helm of the regulatory body since 2008: “The observance of fifteen years of operation has presented the opportunity for ECTEL to further enable the people of the OECS region to build on the gains of liberalisation. These include the continued expansion of affordable mobile services and increased choice in virtual entertainment.”
Charles feels that a more efficient, informed and consumer-focused regulator will also enable the people of the region to benefit more from innovations in services brought about by the extended use on the internet and broadband.
“Committed to Broadband and Open Access in a Digital World” is the theme for the 15th Anniversary celebrations.
Two major regional events will be the highlight of the observances for ECTEL’s 15th Anniversary. They are a conference, which was convened on May 11 – 12, 2015 at the Bay Gardens Hotel in Rodney Bay, Gros Islet, Saint Lucia in collaboration with the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology of Saint Lucia; and a regulatory training course for ECTEL staff and NTRC’s which was held in Basseterre, St. Kitts, June 29 - July 3rd, 2015. ECTEL also plans to engage the public via a series of initiatives throughout Member States.
About the Author: Theresa L Daniel holds an MSc in Social and Public Communication from the London School of Economics and Political Science, a BA Honours Degree, as well as a Diploma in Mass Communication from the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. She has been employed with ECTEL in the Office of the Managing Director, as the Corporate Relations and Communications Officer since April, 2015.