Is a single regional ICT space possible in the Caribbean?
Based on a proposal mooted by the Prime Minister of Grenada at a recently held CARICOM Head of Government meeting, this post discusses whether a single ICT space is possible in the Caribbean.
At the 34th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held in Trinidad and Tobago last week, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. the Honourable Keith Mitchell, proposed that the Caribbean should use technology to drive the region forward. In his address to his fellow ministers, Dr. Mitchell highlighted that a key recommendation of the Regional Digital Development Strategy is the establishment of a single ICT space:
The Single ICT space initiative will complement our flagship regional programme—the CARICOM Single Market and economy (CSME). Suggested characteristics of the Single ICT Space could include: consistent rules across the Region, a single mobile numbering plan and consequent removal of roaming charges for intra-regional calls, and CARICOM Copyrights which could foster renewed entrepreneurship and innovation… (Source: CARICOM)
Although the concept of using technology to facilitate national development and the establishment of a single ICT space and might seem novel, this post highlights a few examples that provide a precedent for such initiatives. We also discuss a few of the challenges that could thwart realisation of a single ICT space, and what might be needed in the first instance to put us on the path to achieving it.
New ideas, old ideas
An appreciation of the impact that ICT on countries is not new, as it has long been posited that ICT can be a critical driver of economic and social development. In relation to economic impact, studies conducted by organisations such as McKinsey & Company, Booz & Company and the World Bank, have found a relationship between broadband penetration and economic growths, particularly the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This relationship is especially pronounced in low- and middle-income countries, where the World bank observed that in those countries, a 10% increase in broadband penetration results in a 1.38% increase in GDP (Source: World Bank).
With regard to a single ICT space, the establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) has, to some degree, the establishment of a single telecoms space among the five participating countries: by St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. Among those five countries a two-tiered regulatory mechanism is employed comprising local regulators in the participating countries (five in total), and ECTEL.
Through the common telecoms policies, procedures, tariffs, etc., that have been fostered through ECTEL, that sub-regional grouping has been able to create a single telecoms space. This approach has resulted in, for example, simplified application and licensing processes across the five countries, especially for applicants that wish to establish operations in more than one country. However, more importantly, it has also given service providers some degree of certainty regarding how matters will be treated across five sovereign nations that have established, and have been able to maintain, a unified posture on a broad range of telecoms issues.
Possible challenges to developing a single regional ICT space
Although Prime Minister Mitchell points to the success of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) to support the establishment of a single ICT space, it is interesting to note that this initiative was first mooted at the 10th meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in 1989. However, it was only in 2006 that the first phase that the Caribbean Single Market was established, with only six countries participating. Currently, 12 of the 15 countries that are full members of CARICOM are members of the CSME. Hence, in light of the delay from conception to realisation – over 16 years – no doubt that CSME has been plagued with a number of challenges throughout the years. However, in the highly dynamic ICT environment that exists both globally and regionally, the establishment of a single ICT space cannot be such a protracted initiative.
In his speech Prime Minister Mitchell also highlighted the Regional Digital Development Strategy (RDDS), which had the establishment of a single ICT space as a key goal. However, referring to our post on the RDDS from two years ago, we, at ICT Pulse, noted that the RDDS was deliberately vague, consisting of high-level concepts and little on implementation. Hence, we are concerned that the strategy itself, as currently drafted will not do much to realise the single ICT space as Dr. Mitchell hopes.
It is also highlighted that the RDDS should be valid until 2015. However, no progress report has been made publicly available that discusses the strategy, its implementation to date and possible successes that have been realised.
Finally, although CARICOM is 40 years old this year, and to varying degrees the member countries have benefitted from the union, quite regularly there are instances when the countries are seen to be not be fully aligned with common principles that have been adopted, and to which on an earlier occasion they had agreed. A simple but frequently occurring example of this is in relation to model legislation, which subject to modification for country context, should be adopted and promulgated. However, invariably, many of the countries, having participated in the drafting process abandon the legislation and the policies it would have been fostering, and essentially reducing those exercises to a waste of time and money.
Is there still hope for a single ICT space?
In summary, considerable benefits can be realised if a single ICT space can be established. In addition to improved economies of scale and scope, a single ICT space can lead to a more coherent approach in addressing a broad range of ICT-related issues in the region, which is urgently needed. More importantly, if done correctly, increased competitiveness and growth in the individual countries and the region as a whole could also eventuate.
At the recently concluded Heads of Government meeting at which Prime Minister Mitchell shared his views on the single ICT space, and as reflected a Communiqué issued, the Head of Government have agreed that ICT issues will be given specific focus on at a sessional meeting to be held in early 2014. In the interim, it will be critical that, for the outset, there is sufficient political will at the highest levels of government across the region, to drive the process and to ensure that the goal of a single ICT space, if formally adopted, is realised in a timely manner. More importantly, the construct envisaged must be still be relevant to the region and to the individual countries, in order for the anticipated benefits to result, bearing in mind that the Caribbean ICT/tech environment is continually changing and evolving.
What do you think? Can the CARICOM/Caribbean region successfully establish a single ICT space?
Image credit: Caribbean Community Secretariat