Early thoughts on “advancing telecoms in the OECS”
A discussion on the recently published paper by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States on advancing telecoms in that sub-regional grouping.
In our ICT/tech news roundup for the week ending 11 January 2014, we included an article, OECS releases draft of telecommunications regulatory document’, which highlighted that the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission has released “a public document articulating its interest and expectations of telecommunications providers in the region operating within the region” (source: The Daily Observer). The document, Advancing Telecommunications Policy and Regulation in the OECS, is available for download on the OECS website. The Daily Observer stated that the Commission was inviting public feedback on the document, but it is unclear to whom they are to be directed and the time frame in which they ought to be made.
Nevertheless, having had an opportunity to review the paper, this article focuses on the first section – on advancing telecommunications policy and regulation in the OECS. (In the document appendices, there is a discussion on the potential risks of telecoms sector consolidation and a brief description of the major regional telecommunications services companies).
Overview of the OECS Commission’s position
Following a brief introduction, the paper highlighted the changing digital landscape. It mentioned a cross section of current and emerging technologies, and specifically noted the importance of telecoms/ICT infrastructure to today’s societies. However, it was also quick to point out that
…market forces alone cannot be expected to generate the societally optimal level of ICT infrastructure buildout, information and communication technology (ICT) access, or even digital content development and user adoption. The critical role ICT now plays in national and regional development can only to be safeguarded through new, more collaborative approaches to development.
The paper also suggested that telecoms in the Caribbean is at a crossroads, due to the continued evolution of the sector, and regulators and governments trying to keep up with those developments. Further, it argued that in addition to regulatory reform, a coordinated regional approach, including among other things, greater regional economic analysis is needed to inform decision-making.
Finally, the paper focused on what can be construed as the meat of the paper: identifying elements that should be considered essential obligations for telecom providers operating within the OECS. The proposed obligations are presented in Table 1.
In light of the regional thrust that is occurring in the Caribbean, and in a variety of sectors, it is indeed commendable that a sub-regional group, such as the OECS, is seeking to establish a harmonised approach to telecoms policy and regulation in the countries it covers. However, in the first instance, and as drafted, it is not clear for what period the paper would be valid, or otherwise should be subject to review and amendment, bearing in mind and by the OECS Commission’s own admission, the dynamic nature of the sector under review. As a result, there appears to be no urgency in realising the matters considered “essential obligations”, as no timeline or plan is suggested through which they could be achieved.
Second, it could be argued that the paper on a whole might not be forward-looking enough. Many of the obligations specified, are being already implemented in the OECS member countries to some degree, for example, number portability, national Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), and the roll out of LTE or equivalent 4G mobile broadband. However, re-emphasising the range of technologies and applications that the paper recognises comprise the digital age, the Commission appears to be focussing on short-to-medium term issues, and not necessary helping the region to forge a longer-term path.
Finally, although the OECS recognises that ICT/telecoms infrastructure is becoming even more critical to modern economies, unlike roads, power and water, the Commission has not recommended that countries invest those networks, though it is recognised that the countries need to be actively involved in shaping their future. Consequently, there is a sense that governments and regulators should maintain an arms-length approach and just oversee the telcos’ activities and try to safeguard the interest of consumers.
However, that posture also suggests that there is an overreliance on the telcos in the region to fulfil all of the needs of the countries, especially the way in which the sector develops, and the resulting impact on the economic and national development. However, the speed in which the telcos might be inclined at implement certain changes, or the resources they might have at their disposal, or the matters they consider priorities, may be at variance with that of the countries. As a result, and from a telecoms/ICT perspective, there is a sense that the OECS still wishes to leave the development of the sector and by extension their countries to chance, as a more proactive stance is not being proposed.
Image credit: OECS