Can the Caribbean truly compete with the world leaders in telecoms and ICT?

Caribbean countries want to be the best, especially in telecoms and ICT, but do they truly have the wherewithal, or the desire, to do so?
As Caribbean countries have become more aware of their place in the world, and interested in how they measure up across a broad range of performance indicators, increasingly there is a desire to be ranked among the best: the world leaders. However as developing countries, and more importantly Small Island Developing States, most countries do not have the resources to truly compete with the ‘big boys’.

It is thus with some bemusement and amusement that the urgings of the Minister with responsibility for telecoms in Barbados, Senator Darcy Boyce, were met:

Speaking at the launch of the Barbados Internet Exchange at the Hilton Hotel, Senator Boyce noted that while Barbados was ranked quite high worldwide in terms of the quality of its telecommunications, “I would want us to be up there with the very best of the competition and I make this very clear to the carriers when I meet with them.”

(Source: Nation News)

Those of us who monitor the state of the economy across the Caribbean can attest that most countries have been and continue to experience marginal economic growth at best. In the majority of instances, and among other things, the countries are drowning in debt, are generating insufficient revenue to meet their recurring expenditure, cannot finance capital projects, and high unemployment continues to a pressing issue. With respect to citizens, and again among other things, the cost of living continues to increase, but salaries are not increasing at the same rate, which is affecting their purchasing power and their ability to afford products they had been able to purchase in the past.

When the current state of the region is considered, it is evident that our countries, and more specifically our governments, do not have the resources to drive the economic growth and development directly. Instead, they could seek to find other ways and means to foster that development and growth they envisage.

Should Governments dictate have private businesses operate?

Although this article has highlighted Senator Boyce’s statement, he is not alone, as a politician and policymaker, in calling on local telecoms firms to make a country more attractive, more competitive, more affordable… and the list goes on. Politicians across the region have at one time or another urged telecoms firms to change their posture to benefit their respective countries. Further, we, as consumers, have not been innocent bystanders, as we tend to support those calls, especially those that could benefit us. However, should Governments dictate have private businesses operate?

The short answer to that question is no. Whilst we might not have a difficulty when it happens to telecoms companies, many of which are large and privately owned, we might not feel the same way if that attention was focussed on us as owners or supporters of micro, small and medium enterprises that operate in the tech space, and even in other sectors.

The business owners who are solely responsible for driving realisation of their vision for their businesses and bearing the risks (along with their investors and supporters), it seems highly inappropriate for anyone to ask (or even demand) that whatever approach that has been implemented to be changed to suit his/her own interests. While it is not lost on the writer that many of those statements from policymakers can be deemed ‘political utterings’, that really have no meaning and are just being said to express an opinion, it is disconcerting nonetheless.

Implement measures to produce the desired behaviour

In a nutshell, and referring back to our telecoms/ICT space, it appears that we – as countries – have fully ceded control of that space and its impact on our lives to the telecoms firms. Further, all we believe we can do is sit on the side-lines and give armchair advice. However, we have more power than we think.

Our governments can influence the behaviour of the commercial sector through the enabling environment they create, that is through the policies, laws and regulations adopted, to name a few. In essence, governments can seek to elicit the behaviour or activity they desire by the inducements and deterrents they establish – within a coherent framework.

Further, consumer behaviour can also influence both how governments and service providers act, regardless of industry. Customer dissatisfaction communicated by complaining through the established channels, by changing providers (if possible), and/or by complaining directly to the portfolioed minister, can be effective.

In summary, if a government is serious, it is not enough for it to just urge private firms to change their business to suit the needs or desires of a country. To the business, it has to make commercial sense to do so. Hence with regard to telecoms and ICT, should Caribbean countries wish to become world leaders, then our governments have a crucial role to play facilitating the viability of the affected businesses, along with consumers’ ability to access the results.

 

Image credit:  Brad K (flickr)

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