Using digital currencies to increase Caribbean participation in the Internet economy

A firsthand account, by Shiva Bissessar of Pinaka Technology Solutions, of the discussion on digital currencies in the Caribbean at the recently held 10th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum in the Bahamas.

I recently participated in the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) hosted 10th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) over the period 6– 8 August, 2014, which featured several distinguished speakers on various topics of Internet Governance ranging from the administration of Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD)  to Cyber Security to increasing Caribbean participation in the Internet Economy.  I myself presented on the topic Achieving Caribbean Cyber Security and the relaxed atmosphere of the room was very conducive to lively audience participation throughout the forum.  The audience was made up of senior stakeholders in ICT from various Caribbean/CARICOM member states, international organisations and private institutions.  This included participants from ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers), ISOC (Internet Society), LACNIC (Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre), CARICOM, ECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), CARCIP (Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Program), TATT (Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago), iGovTT (National Information and Communication Technology Company Limited), Digicel, Flow and various ccTLD administrators.

How Do Caribbean Content Creators Receive Payment?

The exploration of increasing Caribbean participation in the Internet Economy took the form of presentations which sought to make the case for utilising gains in broadband penetration rates and intra-regional pathways (via increased IXP deployment) to increase the level of Caribbean digital content for local, regional and international consumption. Ms. Nerissa Golden of, named one of TechLink’s 2013 Caribbean Innovators for her work in technology public awareness, gave a very insightful presentation (available on the CTU’s event page)  on this very topic which touched on the perspective of entrepreneurs actively participating in the space.  She spoke of the need for digital content creators to continuously develop and output material to stay relevant and of being knowledgeable of Caribbean digital video content creators who missed out on opportunities for monetisation due to lack of adherence to technical standards in production as expected by big media houses. She then spoke of something which really struck a chord with me.  She questioned the availability and quality of traditional payment systems, like PayPal and MoneyGram, to meet the needs of small digital content creators.

“What is critical and many are failing at is the monetization of their cultural goods.  A major challenge is that many islands are not in the PayPal system for receiving payments. This has restricted more artists to be able to accept purchases direct from their websites.”

Now, it’s difficult enough for Caribbean content creators to find opportunities to monetise their work, but when you add onto that the burden of unresponsive methods for them to actually receive payment, are we really encouraging growth in this area?

Problem With Existing Payment Systems

At the end of her presentation the moderator, Mr Nigel Cassimere of the CTU, asked an intriguing question as to what can be done at the government policy level to assist Caribbean content creators. It was at this point I interjected; empathising with the small content creators mentioned by Ms. Golden and suggested that exploration should take place outside of traditional payment systems to seek out digital currency systems which offer greater geographical reach, higher availability, lower transactional costs and faster transmission rates.   I went further to offer that if Caribbean governments were serious about encouraging participation in the Internet Economy they need to examine the risks and opportunities of digital currencies and encourage systems which can facilitate payments to small Caribbean content creators. Mr. Bevil Wooding of Packet Clearing House also chimed in; suggesting that reliance on traditional payments systems in such circumstances removes wealth from the Caribbean economies.

Figure 1: SWOT analysis of Digital Currencies in Trinidad & Tobago (Source: S Bissessar)
Figure 1: SWOT analysis of Digital Currencies in Trinidad & Tobago (Source: S Bissessar)

I developed the above graphic for a presentation delivered at the 6th South School of Internet Governance (SSIG) 2014 which attempted to show the potential benefits of digital currencies to Trinidad and Tobago, and by extension the Caribbean, in the context of expensive traditional remittance systems imposed on African nations and other discussed factors. Given Ms Golden’s initial stated desire for better traditional payment systems, it is instructive to note that in November 2012, WordPress began utilising Bitcoin to pay their bloggers in certain countries where PayPal did not operate due to political or other reasons.

Of late, PayPal’s ‘politics’ has been an increasing source of concern, hence why should we leave our entrepreneurs no alternative other than traditional payment and remittance systems?  If Caribbean content creators were to receive payments in Bitcoin or other digital currency they would then require the services of a digital currency exchange to convert said digital currency into the fiat currency of their choice?  Are we currently encouraging the establishment of such digital currency exchange services?  What has been the response from Caribbean Governments and Central Banks to the digital currency phenomenon?


Image credits:  William Warby (flickr);  S. Bissessar


Shiva Bissessar image Shiva Bissessar, B.Sc.(Hons.) MBA, M.Sc.  With over 17 years of industry experience, Shiva Bissessar currently offers corporate entities and public institutions consultancy on strategic matters of ICT and Information Security.  Of late he has been focusing on bringing awareness to cutting edge issues within the Information Security domain including areas digital currencies, cyber security and cloud (security and privacy).