NATIONAL Consumer Associations in Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada have called on their governments to ensure that there is a level playing field for the involvement of consumers in the process of regulating telecommunications companies in the Eastern Caribbean.
They made the call in the wake of their participation last week in a Capacity Building and Stakeholder Workshop held at the Coco Resorts.
The three organizations expressed appreciation at the fact that they were invited to participate in the workshop, which sought to establish legal and regulatory frameworks for telecommunication service providers within the OECS.
They said they had in the past expressed concerns together as independent consumer organisations regarding the implications for consumers about the proposed merger with FLOW and Cable & Wireless, adding:.
“We are informed that when there is an increase in broadband penetration the economy and GDP grow. The observation is made that the cost to regulate the sector is a cost to providers, which must be passed on to the consumers.
“As consumer advocates we are aware that in order for consumers to access the services of telecommunication, which has grown exponentially in recent years, there will be a cost.
Our concerns are that when the costs are exorbitant or excessive, regulations and control must be adhered to. It is for this reason that including consumers should not be a second thought, but an integral part of the process”.
Calling for a level playing field for consumers’ involvement in this process, they said: “We need to see strong and effective NTRC’s (Regulators) with the will and support of governments to ensure that all service providers keep within the necessary frameworks established.
“As independent consumer organisations (ICOs) we believe that a level playing field will put the interests of consumers as a priority within the context of any deliberations to regulate and provide a sustainable investment environment for the development and advancement of the telecommunication sector. A level playing field therefore, will ensure accessibility to relevant information regarding choices; affordability, bearing in mind the economic challenges already faced by consumers in many other areas; availability in regard to the reach of the services provided; and relevant standards of acceptability – based on international best practice standards.”
The three organizations said the fact that ECTEL was facilitating these discussions was important to consumers. “Indeed, we are all consumers. We need to remember that the service providers and the regulators are consumers as well. Therefore, in this discourse the interests of consumers must be given maximum priority.
“We need a level playing field in this complex telecommunication sector so that consumers’ interests could be given greater priority. In this regard, we will endeavour to strengthen our collaborated coordination on issues relevant to consumers’ interests and protection”