In recognition of World Telecommunications and Information Society Day on 17 May, we look at ICT in the Caribbean and realising the possibilities that it promises.
Tomorrow, 17 May, will be World Telecommunications and Information Society Day (WTISD); a day when the past, present and future of telecommunications is recognised. In the lead up to this date, many countries around the world have organised events to “raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide” (Source: International Telecommunications Union).
This year’s theme for WTISD is Broadband for Sustainable Development, which according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), seeks to highlight the
…multi-stakeholder commitment to achieve universal access to broadband connectivity and content and foster political will on achieving this objective; identify key gaps in broadband research and development, infrastructure, and packaged development of applications and services; define policy priorities for action in the areas of allocating radio frequency spectrum for broadband, universal access obligations and innovative financing mechanisms; and lead to technological solutions, particularly in the extension of broadband access into rural areas, least developed countries and small island developing states.
Pretty good access, but performing poorly on everything else…
Although the thought has been expressed on a number of occasions, it may not be thoroughly understood that technology, and within our particular context, telecoms and ICT, are absolutely vital to the Caribbean’s future growth and prosperity. However, the latest edition of the Global Information Technology Report (GITR) published last month by the World Economic Forum, et al., on network readiness, highlighted that Caribbean countries are under-performing considerably in the areas of ICT environment, usage and impact, though our readiness, especially access to infrastructure scores, might be relatively good.
Although the GITR 2014 only included eight Caribbean countries, namely, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, the results and conclusions ring true, across the Caribbean. We are not putting adequate effort into creating the enabling environment to foster integration, innovation and ultimately, wealth creation.
Private sector or government-led
The need for effort, leadership and a suitable facilitating framework was emphasised by Mr. Bevil Wooding at an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) stakeholders meeting held in Jamaica earlier this week. In his talk, Bevil highlighted the fact that the installation of an IXP would only be part of the foundation upon which the desired Information Society ecosystem can be realised.
He also noted that increasingly, many governments across the region have been adopting an arms-length posture on developing their countries’ ICT space; essentially leaving the private sector to control the direction and pace of development of the sector. However, if countries want to build “a domestic economy that is based on the Internet”, as opposed to just “developing services that run on the Internet”, he stressed that governments must become more proactive in developing and implementing the requisite policies and structures.
The slow growth in ICT in the Caribbean
In a similar vein, in a recent statement attributed to Honourable Dr. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, who also has responsibility for science and technology at the CARICOM Heads of Government level, he expressed concern about the slow growth in ICT within CARICOM when compared to the rest of the world
“There has been an increased growth globally in the ICT industry but this level of growth is yet to be experienced in the region. However, of all the technologies, ICT is the one most utilized in the region,” Mitchell explained.
“We are yet to be impacted upon in any substantial manner by the major platform technologies that are transforming the world of today. And maybe therein lies our problem and our salvation,” he said.
(Source: Caribbean News Now).
Dr. Mitchell, who was speaking at workshop on Technopreneurship in Tobago, stressed the need for CARICOM countries develop to strategies and programs that will foster “technopreneurship” in the region, and increase spending on research and development; but it was not entirely clear upon whom those responsibilities were being foisted. However, he was quick to make it clear to the technopreneurs in attendance that they need to become more acquainted with the technologies available, and also with “their potential in your business venture” (Source: Caribbean News Now).
With this year’s WTISD falling on a Saturday, it is easy to overlook or take for granted the convenience and opportunities ICTs have opened up to us, our societies, and to the world. Though the private sector might be at the forefront of the driving the technological advances, along with the consumer products and services that enjoy today, their success is underpinned by a business environment that encourages and supports entrepreneurship (and not just in words only!). Hence, it is not enough for Caribbean governments and policymakers to know what is needed to begin to realised the growth and benefits promised through ICT; they must also have the fortitude and be committed to realise the society they envisage.