Communications and Public Administration Minister Maxie Cuffie wants internet service providers to lower their rates. He made the call at a dinner for the 2016 Broadband Caribbean Forum hosted by the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain.
Cuffie, who raised the issue well before Flow announced plans this week to increase prices for its services, was applauded only by one member of the audience comprised mainly of executives from telecommunications companies and agencies. He did not let that single positive reaction to his call go unnoticed.
"We cannot escape the design of history that has placed a responsibility upon each and every one of us in this room, to create a better tomorrow for the millions who live in our regions," the minister said.
"We could either bite the bullet and accept the challenge, or pass the responsibility to the next generation. The government of T&T has taken the decision to bite the bullet. Indeed, as we wrestle with the implications of a significant reduction in our revenues from oil and gas, we are determined to lay the ground work to ensure that broadcasting and telecommunications become one of the next engines of growth in the local economy."
Cuffie said the imminent launch of a Wi-Fi on buses programme is part of a wider policy to increase the level of broadband access across the country. He said Government is committed to providing a free island-wide public broadband wireless network.
"We are convinced that this singular policy will enhance meaningfully the quality of life enjoyed by our citizens, opening up vistas of possibility for those with ambition and purpose, to realise dreams they once thought unreachable.
"One of the knock-on effects of this policy, we believe, will be a reduction in internet rates. There can be no disputing the fact that an island-wide broadband system will allow access to goods and services at reduced rates because of the internet ecosystem is based on competition," he said.
Cuffie said the lack of affordable broadband made it harder for poor citizens to spend their limited income more efficiently, because they are unable access the competitive market.
In the same way the broadcast media industry was liberalised by his predecessors to the point where more than 35 radio stations, seven television stations as well as daily and weekly newspapers were in operation, he said, liberalisation of the internet and broadband market will radically alter T&T's technology landscape.
The minister said by increasing and bringing market forces to bear on the industry, legislators could get at the heart of issues that historically undermine the ability of low income consumers to have access to services comparable to what those with greater disposable income enjoy.
"If we agree that we are all on the same path to ensuring that broadband access is critical to supporting life in the 21st century, then I am certain we can find the synergies amongst ourselves that would assist our government in moving this from a conference theme to a budgeted item," Cuffie said.