Free Wi-Fi: the three sides of the debate

The Sint Maarten Government is considering rolling out free Wi-Fi. The incumbent telecoms provider and regulator have stated their positions on the matter. We also add our two cents…

In recent years, several Caribbean countries have expressed a desire to increase Internet access and use, with the expectation of improving digital literacy of their citizens, along with their country’s innovativeness and global competitiveness. One of the initiatives many countries have been eager to implement is increasing the availability of public (free to use) Wi-Fi. Some countries even set the goal of having 100% Wi-Fi coverage, through which to focus their efforts.

It would thus not be any surprise that the topic was raised at the recently concluded Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO) annual Conference and Trade Exhibition, which was held in the Dominican Republic. Through a press release, the Minister for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications in Saint Maarten, Melissa Arrindell-Doncher, expressed an eagerness “to explore possibilities of establishing WiFi solutions for cruise visitors, in collaboration with local providers” (Source: The Daily Herald).

Sint Maarten is part of the Dutch Caribbean, and shares the island it inhabits with Saint Martin, a French colony. Similar to most Caribbean countries, tourism accounts for around 80% of Sint Maarten’s economy, and in 2015, it received around 1.9 million cruise ship passengers (Source: The Daily Herald), in addition to other visitors, which based on previous years is estimated at at least 500,000 a year (Source: CIA World Factbook). In light of tourism’s importance to the Sint Maarten economy, it thus seems logical for the Minister for Tourism to want to protect it, and even try to add value to the visitor experience.