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.
Last 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
- 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
- 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.
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