A discussion of five challenges that are being experienced in the Caribbean that have hindered local digital content creation.
A few weeks ago, a press release was issued of a partnership between BrightPath Foundation and Columbus International Inc. to facilitate, among other things, Caribbean digital content creation. Although the press release was picked up by media houses across the region, it did not appear to gain much attention when publicised. However, over the past week, articles have been published based on comments attributed to Rhea Yaw Ching, Corporate Vice President Sales and Marketing at Columbus Communications, a subsidiary of Columbus International Inc., which have fuelled discussion across the region on digital content creation.
Although, Ms. Yaw Ching’s views did not seem unduly controversial, it does appear that they, nonetheless, touched a nerve:
Producing more local digital content remains one of the most effective means of increasing internet penetration in any market. Local content production can also create significant opportunities and positively impact both social and economic development. This was the view expressed by Rhea Yaw Ching, corporate vice president–sales and marketing at Columbus Communications, at the BrightPath Foundation Youth TechCamp.
“As the volume of local content increases, the Internet becomes more relevant and has a greater impact on improving the lives of local communities,” said Yaw Ching. “While people in the Caribbean consume a significant amount of content produced outside its borders, they also want to interact with their news, their music, their images, their accents and even their issues in cyberspace.”
(Source: Trinidad and Tobago Guardian)
Some of discussions focussed on untapped opportunities in the Caribbean to create digital content that could benefit from the support of Columbus International and other organisations. On the other hand, others are waiting to see how Columbus International will assist in digital content development in the region, and how it might benefit from such activities.
Although Columbus International, BrightPath Foundation and other agencies across the region might all recognise the importance of local digital content, there are a number of challenges that are hindering us from having more local content online. Five are discussed below, which if addressed would move us firmly in the right direction.
1. Still limited Internet access
Using past experience in the mobile/cellular market as a precedent, digital content development is likely to become the transformational phenomenon envisaged in the Caribbean only when the majority of citizens have ready access to the Internet. Although we have not truly measured the impact of mobile/cellular coverage and phones in the region, it is our most ubiquitous communications medium, and also provides a springboard for a broad range of essential daily activities and for innovation.
Across the region, less than 3 out of 10 persons have a fixed broadband Internet subscription (Source: ICT Pulse). Although wireless connectivity, such as via Wi-Fi and mobile broadband are available, still high prices and restricted bandwidth/transmission speeds to execute large volume uploads (which can be necessary depending on the type of content that is being created) tend to limit the utility of these mediums as workhorses of online content development.
2. Internet still too expensive
Coupled with the previous point, Internet broadband access is still too expensive in the region and restricts the number of persons who can afford the service. As was discussed in our 2013 update of Internet affordability, the most basic Internet broadband service, a plan with an advertised download speed of up to 2 Mbps, would consume over 5% of an average person’s monthly salary in almost half of the countries surveyed. However, as a shared medium, customers generally receive a significantly slower service in terms of download and upload speeds, which can be less than half that advertised. Hence to mitigate that occurrence, higher speed packages are encouraged, but the impact of spend against budget can make such options prohibitive. For example, for a plan with an advertised download speed of up to 8 Mbps, the required spend represented over 10% of a person’s monthly income in more than half of the countries assessed (Source: ICT Pulse).
3. Governments are not leading by example
Although the region has recognised the fact that information (digital content) is a commodity and that countries world wide are shifting towards becoming Information Societies and knowledge-cased economies, many of our countries are still reluctant to implements measures to promote it. An important example of this is in relation to e-government. In the last e-government survey conducted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), most Caribbean/CARICOM countries were ranked in the latter half of the rankings. More importantly, across the regions, citizens are still experiencing considerable difficulty in engaging Government online or in conducting transactions on line with specific government agencies.
This dearth of digital content by governments across the region does highlight the absence of policies promoting, among other things, Open Data, and even policies promoting Open Government, Such policies encourage greater transparency within governments, but also can foster innovation and stimulate economic growth, which individual countries and the Caribbean region as whole have indicated are critical for us moving forward.
4. We are lazy
To demonstrate this point, we ought to bear in mind the impact of North American content on Caribbean culture, and on local content creation. From a TV broadcast perspective, we do not have to create all of the content that is aired within the region. We depend on international programming to bolster what little content we actually create, which may speak not only to an inherent reliance on non-Caribbean content to satisfy our needs, but also our own entrenched inertia to change the status quo.
5. We still believe we are insignificant
Finally, as Small Island Developing States, the Caribbean region can seem insignificant relative to other countries and country-grouping in the world. All too often our countries, individually and collectively get lumped in with Latin America or with North America, and tend not to be recognised for our own uniqueness and contribution. It therefore should not be any surprise when, as it relates to digital content creation, we do not appreciate the value we can add to our own countries, the region, and to the world.
Furthermore, we, individually, might also be stumped to identify who our audience might be for whatever content we create – who will find our content interesting? Who will benefit from having it? Creating online content can be expensive and time-consuming. Hence from the outset and until local content creation becomes second nature, persons may need to understand the potential impact and value of their contributions to their countries and to the Caribbean region as a whole in order to participate in the effort to get more local content online.
What other factors could be hindering local digital content creation in the region?
Image credit: Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)