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Regulator weighs in on free public WIFI discussion

Published on: Jul 28, 2017
“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”, according to the United Nations in their ongoing efforts to protect internet access around the world.
Director of Bureau Telecommunication and Post St. Maarten, Mr. Anthony Carty – in response to statements of the CEO of Telem - explained: “the statement above from the UN indicates how internet is now being looked at globally. Internet in this day and age must be seen as public utility - just like electricity and water – that should be available & accessible to everyone. Recognizing 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”.

Ryan Wijngaarde, in charge of Consumer Affairs & Sector Development at BTP further outlined that free public WIFI is common practice in many countries, cities and island territories around the world. “Its 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 WIFI is the most essential tool nowadays for Tourism, Country, City, and island promotion. Free WIFI zones gives your town a modern look and demonstrates forward thinking”.

For the above mentioned reasons BTP applauds the initiatives from the Minister of TEATT, Mrs. Arrindell-Doncher and Tourism Director Mr. Brison, to explore solutions that can truly benefit our island, and further enhance our tourism product. St. Maarten is a one pillar economy that depends on tourism; its income contribute to almost 85% of our 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.

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 WIFI 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”.

Mr. Carty continued: “When talking about “Free Public WIFI”, 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 & 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”.

Offering free WIFI services is not a new thing; many businesses in St. Maarten are offering free WIFI 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 is the Telecom regulatory authority of St. Maarten and mandated via Landverordening to advice the Minister of TEATT, and represent and defend the interest of country St. Maarten related to telecommunications. BTP will be liaison between the Minister of TEATT and the telecom industry, and is encouraging 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 tourist.