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Jun 21 2013

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Are our ICT policies truly facilitating us becoming Information Societies?

This post discusses the emphasis that is being placed on telecoms policy, as opposed to ICT policy in the Caribbean, although most countries have declared, in some way, an intention to become an Information Society.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/agree-terms.php?id=10012988Last week the Bahamas regulator, the Unities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) launched a public consultation on proposed Consumer Protection Regulations, which will end on 2 August 2013. Although the Bahamas has a Consumer Protection Act already enacted, the proposed Regulations have been have been drafted under the Communications Act 2009, to guide customer and service provider engagement in the telecoms sector.  However, while it might be possible to apply some of the provisions, the Regulations have not been prepared to fully consider the information and communications technology (ICT) issues, which countries, such as the Bahamas, are facing.

In a different vein, the local Trinidad and Tobago regulator, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT), is just about to conclude, on 24 June 2013, the consultation on proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act. In summary the proposed amendments, which are extensive, are refining the current language of the primary legislation, but they do not comprehensively address ICT issues, but in some instances try to subsume them under the current framework.

In addition to the above countries, amendment and supplements to telecoms legislation have been occurring across the Caribbean, for example in Jamaica and the ECTEL states (St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada). Further, there has been a regional initiative geared towards advising countries on select ICT issues, and in Jamaica, for example, an ICT policy has been prepared. However, although legislative reform has been occurring in region, in most countries there still has not been a decisive shift to clearly address ICT issues in policy and law.

Regional HIPCAR project

The Enhancing Competitiveness in the Caribbean through the Harmonization of ICT Policies, Legislation and Regulatory Procedures (HIPCAR) was conceived by CARICOM and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, “in response to requests from CARICOM States and other ICT stakeholders who saw the need for a more unified approach to the subject” (Source: HIPCAR).

Under the HIPCAR project, assessment reports, model policy guidelines and model legislation have been prepared for a number of telecoms and ICT-related issues, including:

  • electronic transactions
  • electronic evidence in e-commerce
  • privacy and data protection
  • cybercrime
  • interconnection and access
  • Universal Access and Service.

Although the HIPCAR project has provided the region with much needed technical assistance to consider and prepare draft policy and legislation, which can be implemented in individual countries, many have not yet implemented any of the proposed legislation, More importantly, although comprehensive studies might have been conducted on specific ICT-related topics, there is still not a sense the ICTs have been considered generally to establish an overarching context for the specific issues that were addressed.

Jamaica’s ICT Policy

In 2011, Jamaica prepared an ICT Policy, which, as a national policy, would guide subsequent secondary and technical policies, along with any legislative reform needed. The document details the context within which the policy is being prepared, which included beginning to position the country to realise its long-term goals and strategic vision.

As drafted, the policy outlines a broad range of issues, many of which might have their foundation in telecoms, but now include “ICT”. However, some clear ICT-related topics, such as the following, have also been included and considered:

  • country code top level domain administration
  • e-government
  • privacy and security
  • access and uptake of high capacity networks.

Having said that, and perhaps, using the premise that this policy is just framework upon which other documents would be prepared, Jamaica’s position on ICT generally is still not clear. This is especially apparent when trying to identify core principles that could be applied to important issues that might not have been specially included in the policy as drafted, but which one might still expect to apply nonetheless.

Becoming an Information Society

Without a doubt, matters related to ICT and ICT policy deserves comprehensive examination and discussion in the Caribbean. From the term, ICT, many of us might understand what it means and what areas it might cover, but the truth is that no single definition exists, as suggested in Wikipedia:

Information and Communications Technology or (ICT), is often used as an extended synonym for information technology (IT), but is a more specific term that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), computers as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems, which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information…

… The term ICT is now also used to refer to the convergence of audio-visual and telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system. There are large economic incentives (huge cost savings due to elimination of the telephone network) to merge the audio-visual, building management and telephone network with the computer network system using a single unified system of cabling, signal distribution and management…

Hence although it is still necessary to focus on telecoms, as one of the key pillars of ICT, there must also be an emphasis on the Internet and networks. Some of topics that we, as a region, have yet begun to truly consider include:

  • Internet governance
  • Internet regulation
  • network and cyber security
  • Internet numbering
  • country code top level domain administration
  • network neutrality.

As a result, there is still a considerable amount of ICT policy work that our countries must still develop, but it is not yet clear whether or not, or the extent to which, topics such as those suggested, are scheduled for consideration. More importantly, although our governments all speak about ICT and becoming Information Societies and knowledge-based economies, some of the most basic policies are still to be developed.

 

Image credits:  Toys 3D by Idea go / FreeDigitalPhoto.net

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About the author

Michele Marius

Michele Marius has a wealth of experience in the telecoms and ICT space, which has been gained in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and in the public and private sectors. She is the Editor and Publisher of ICT Pulse.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ict-pulse.com/2013/06/ict-policies-facilitating-information-societies/

6 comments

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  1. Carlton Samuels

    Some good insights here. There is one major idea that is left out of all this and that is information literacy; meaning a recognition of need and nature of the information required and the ability to determine the extent of need, to locate and make provident use of it. For if the information society is bounded by the citizenry effectively using information for work, play economic and social advancement, then this knowledge is key to fulfillment.

    Our education system is critical to these outcomes. And if we are to be prepared for the information society – and it’s corollary, the knowledge economy – our education system cries out for radical reform.

    I would be very uneasy with any close reading of the term ‘Internet regulation’. Since the [telecoms] infrastructure on which the ecosystem rides is, by and large, already regulated, regulation in this context tends to suggest content regulation. I would be unalterably opposed. Speaking as an adult, I am the only – and I so mean the only – one qualified to determine what I read, see or think. I think about this like I do religion. Every man or woman is entitled to his or her own myths. And I give the same and equal respect to all myths, ancient and modern. Yes, we have our fair share of weak-minded people. But that is not sufficient cause to disallow or forbid one to be foolish.

    1. Michele Marius

      Insightful, as per usual Carlton!

      I do agree that information literacy is critical to ensure citizens’ fullest participation and use of the Internet/ICTs, and countries could benefit considerably from establishing clear policies and frameworks to realise it.

      With regard to Internet content, I truly have no interest promoting its regulation, or in having someone restrict or censor information/content persons wish to access. Based on my experience and observations across the region, very little Internet infrastructure regulation is occurring in the Caribbean. More importantly, matters such as retail pricing, quality of service, network neutrality etc, really have not been given much attention by established regulators. The focus has been almost exclusively on voice (especially mobile/cellular) services…

  2. John Thompson

    “Information society” itself as a defined state of being or existence has not been articulated by Caribbean countries either . When they say they are moving towards becoming an information society what do they really mean in terms of infrastructure, institutional framework and social and economic environment. The comprehensiveness of such a definition requires a national vision document that breaks down the information society into its vital components and describes the integration of the key players ( policy makers, industry leaders, stakeholders and ….. In other words the eco- systems that will generate the activity/combustion to drive the markets – markets that give rise to competitive economic commercialism and manufacture and relevant social development – must be identified and organised through facilitation at various levels.
    A national ICT plan that is a composite of the holistic development, a master plan and blueprint so to speak, must be tabled and used to get the information society programmes devised and implemented

    Caricom needs to convene on this as a first priority for its members and having these plans completed, then tackle each of the components collectively as partners in development. The benefits will be optimised when we achieve or set the milestone measurments together. This way the externalities are maximised from the get go. This is forcing the likelihood of success through cultivating critical mass” at an earlier point.

    Sporadic and individualised excursions will not set the foundation for the scales and scope of economies that a coordinated and collaborative development could foster for us much faster, as a region. As long as we neglect the whole regional approach as has been done elsewhere ( EU USA, Australia) we will never each have the where it all to surface as information societies in isolation. So, ICT development has got to be a regional mandate set with regional guidelines, policies and laws. Granted there may be implementation lags in some countries and this may be inevitable due to resource constraints, we will still be assured that once it is all put together, the region will function as an integrated whole. This will arise given the common policy and legal underpinning drafted at the outset. .

    1. Michele Marius

      Well said John! Thanks for your thoughts.

      Two things:
      * Are you aware of Caricom’s Regional Digital Development Strategy? A draft was made publicly available over two years ago, and little has been shared on it since.

      * Often and in my opinion, Caribbean countries recognised the economies of scale and scope benefits that can be realised when they collaborate, and as such, do participate in initiatives. The challenge tends to occur when they go back home, and individual countries decide to take another course, other than what had been agreed or expected. The region is littered with model/draft policies, legislation and other regionally-driven outputs, which have gone nowhere in most countries.

  3. James Bynoe

    Our regional lack of effective ICT laws and legislation which drive effective ICT policies, plans and procedures in both the private and public sectors, is having a significant adverse impact on our overall regional ICT posture.

    We have simply not leveraged a wide range of ICT & Cyber Security best practices and standards as we should to ensure the Confidentially, Integrity and Availability for our data resources and that of our investors.

    Our cultural ICT decision making timelines and processes have not keep up with the rapid rate of growth in technology, while becoming increasingly exposed to ever evolving cyber threats and vulnerability (4000 a day avg).

    ICT as a component of business is still not being viewed by many industry and government leaders with the attention, focus, and investment it needs. As a result our ICT challenges get further complicated as those that should know in key ICT roles and positions simply don’t.

    In closing, solving this regional ICT challenge in a sustainable way has to start with roles based ICT and Cyber Security Awareness Training.

    James Bynoe
    CEO, Caribbean Cyber Security Center
    http://www.caribbeancsc.com
    james.bynoe@caribbeancsc.com
    236-8818

    1. Michele Marius

      Thanks James.

      Indeed, the Caribbean could benefit from a clearer and more proactive stance on ICT and cyber security, along with appropriate policies, regulations, procedures, etc.

      On another note, when you mention 4,000 a day average, re cyber threats and vulnerability, is that for the region as a whole? For an individual country? Or for a single organisation? Do clarify…

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