This year’s review of the Caribbean’s Internet Governance policy revealed three trends which suggest a changing emphasis and developing sophistication among Internet users across the region.
Beyond the talks and presentations delivered at the 8th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF), which was held in Saint Lucia on 29—30 August, one of the main objectives of the Forum is to review the Caribbean Internet Governance Policy Framework. Initially drafted in 2009 by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the policy framework is tabled for review at the annual CIGF to ensure that it continues to reflect stakeholders’ interests, and
…stimulate[s] development of harmonised national policies and best practices in IG appropriate to and supportive of the aspirations of the CSME for economic and social development. It could also facilitate formulation of Caribbean positions for discussions at international fora and be the basis for further policy evolution in the region… (Source: CTU)
This year’s CIGF attendees, who represented a broad range of interests and expertise from both the private and public sectors, reviewed the third iteration of the policy framework. For the most part, the suggested amendments aimed to tighten the language used in the document, which would, to varying degrees, adjust the emphasis of a particular priority. However, Forum attendees also proposed some new recommendations, which also appeared to be recurring themes during the Forum proceeding, and suggest a changing emphasis in the Caribbean Internet Governance (IG) conversation. In this post, we highlight three.
1. More pointed promotion of Internet safety
Internet safety is a concept that has already been captured in the policy framework, especially as it relates to the strategic area of “legal framework and enforcement”. However, the regular discussions that have been occurring on cyber security, cyber crime along with the continuing concern about the safety and privacy online, especially among children, is precipitating closer examination of the topic. For example, the question was posed:
“Where do we draw the line between what is safe and unsafe on the Internet?” (Source: CTU)
Although the question might appear simple or trite, it is not easily answered. Persons can be advised of conduct that may protect them from certain threats, but the Internet itself is such a nebulous entity where seemingly safe or prudent practices can still leave persons exposed. Hence there are no guarantees. Nevertheless, as increasing numbers of persons get online across the Caribbean, it may become incumbent on governments to establish some guidelines for Internet use, which can be widely distributed and inculcated into its citizenry.
2. Greater focus on Quality of Service
The current and previous versions of the policy framework recognised the importance of Quality of Service (QoS) as it pertains to the physical (telecoms) infrastructure. Priority recommendations ranged from ensuring that regulators and telcos establish national standards and regional benchmarks for service reliability, stability and availability, to ensuring that adequate systems, capacity and staffing are in place to manage operations, maintenance and remediation (Source: CTU)
However, there appears to be a realization that while the policy aims to improve QoS, there is no system in place to assess the extent to which telcos and their services across the Caribbean meet the standards specified. Hence, a new recommendation made is that as a licensing condition, telcos should be required to report regularly on their service performance against the stated QoS benchmarks (Source: CTU).
3. Greater demand for information sharing to inform decision-making
On more than one occasion during the review of the policy framework, it became apparent that persons wanted to be better informed to improve their decision-making. This view was highlighted in relation to, inter alia, QoS and research conducted on the development of the Caribbean Information Society.
With regard to QoS, greater transparency was being proposed in order to allow consumers to compare service performance among telcos (Source: CTU),. On the other hand with regard to research conducted, the request was that the findings be tailored to be used by policy makers and legislators (Source: CTU).
Such requests suggest two key changes that are occurring within the Caribbean. First, consumers appreciate that they do have options, and are empowered to exercise it. As a result, they want to be adequately equipped – with the information needed – in order to make decisions. Second, the deluge of information that regular users of the Internet face, appears to be driving the need for information to be sufficiently distilled for immediate comprehension. In light of the heavy workloads that many of us are under, policy makers and legislators might be in a better position to advance an issue, if the inputs/information provided can be readily incorporated.
The Caribbean Internet Governance Policy Framework, while an admirable and necessary initiative that provides a construct for harmonised IG policies and positions across the CARICOM, can be susceptible to the challenges similar regional programmes face. First, outside of the CIGF events, which relatively few persons are able to attend, there might not be any other official sessions through which the IG conversation can continue across the region. The CTU does have an online discussion forum platform, but it requires revitalisation. The organisation has promised to reactivate it and to make a concerted effort to engage stakeholders on a regular basis. However, there is still need for a two-pronged approach in order to effect national change:
- through the CTU, as an institution of CARICOM, to facilitate harmonised ICT policies across member states, which are communicated directly to policy makers, legislators and other senior government officials, and
- through local (in-country) stakeholders, who can lobby their governments directly to implement policies that address their interests and concerns, which hopefully are aligned with those being proffered at the regional level.
Finally, there frequently is little follow through by the participating countries to adopt or align national policies to those proposed or agreed at the regional level. However, increased engagement on IG issues across all sectors of society should result in a better informed citizenry, who in turn can demand greater accountability from their governments and ensure that priority issues are decisively addressed.