BTP in favour of free Wi-Fi exploratory talks

PHILIPSBURG–Bureau Telecommunications and Post (BTP) St. Maarten has thrown its support behind the exploratory talks that were held recently for free Wi-Fi for visitors to St. Maarten.  

In a press release on Friday, BTP said it applauds the initiative from Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Melissa Arrindell-Doncher and Tourism Director Rolando Brison to explore solutions that can “truly benefit our island and further enhance our tourism product.”

BTP said St. Maarten is a one pillar economy that depends on tourism, whose income contributes to almost 85 per cent of the country’s economy. “Looking into ways to safeguard tourism, cater better to our visitors, listen carefully to their needs, and embracing modern technology as a tool to increase their satisfaction is imperative if we want economic growth for our nation,” BTP said.

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The regulator’s views come on the heels of statements made by TelEm Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kendall Dupersoy who said on Thursday that he was against the free Wi-Fi idea.

In response to Dupersoy’s statement BTP Director Anthony Carty noted a statement made by the UN about the Internet, showing how internet is now being looked at globally. The UN statement said “the Internet, so embedded in the lives of so many people, acting as the main way for information exchange, that to deny access to everyone in the world is a breach of human rights.”

Carty said Internet in this day and age must be seen as public utility – just like electricity and water – that should be available and accessible to everyone. “Recognising the need and importance of Internet services for our citizens and visitors, to connect to the World Wide Web, should be of the highest priority in every discussion,” Carty noted.

Head of Consumer Affairs and Sector Development at BTP Ryan Wijngaarde said free public Wi-Fi is common practice in many countries, cities and island territories around the world. “It’s being used for education purposes and utilized by millions of students, it’s an essential tool to bridge the digital divide in country, whereby less fortunate people can still visit hotspots to get connected. We’ve seen that it’s being used for disaster relief, whereby residents after natural disaster, still have places to connect to the internet to communicate with family and friends, and last but not least, free public Wi-Fi is the most essential tool nowadays for Tourism, Country, City, and island promotion. Free Wi-Fi zones gives your town a modern look and demonstrates forward thinking,” he noted.

According to BTP, regional and international studies indicate that the first thing visitors are doing when coming of the cruise ship, yacht or plane, is to search for Wi-Fi and connect to the Internet to check messages, communicate with their family and friends back home, and update social media. If our main focus is, and remains, to monetize tourist – via super expensive data roaming charges – and not to facilitate, we might win the battle but lose the war.”

Carty: “When talking about free public Wi-Fi, it must be clear that the intention is to make the service free for end-users in designated areas (e.g. tourism hotspots), whereby the Ministry of TEATT/ Tourism Bureau can enter into commercial agreements with Internet Service Providers for bandwidth and infrastructure. As we are talking about a very large data consumption, to our opinion there still will be a big revenue model that St. Maarten service providers can benefit from. There are many examples were this is being done, including Aruba & Curacao, and we are confident that this can work for St. Maarten too, and will be beneficial for all major players involved.”

BTP said offering free Wi-Fi services is not a new thing; many businesses in St. Maarten are offering free Wi-Fi services to guest to accommodate them and at the same time capturing data for marketing purposes. “Broadband expenses are often partly being paid back by allowing business to advertise on the landing page. That government is trying to replicate a proven business model on designated strategic locations, is justifiable, and at no point the government should be held hostage by service providers that are making claims of a potential loss in (roaming) revenues, and therefore not be able to invest in corporate social responsibility.”  

BTP said it will be liaison between the TEATT Minister and the telecom industry, and it encourages the minister to continue to engage in conversations with different telecom service providers in St. Maarten and to continue to explore opportunities to improve communication services on the island for residents, businesses and tourists.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/68061-btp-in-favour-of-free-wi-fi-exploratory-talks

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