Many Caribbean countries would like their citizens to make more local content available on the Internet. However, what does that mean, and what could be a first step to achieve that goal?
From time to time, politicians and policymakers across the region call for more local content to be created and made available online. Those utterances tend to coincide with the launch of an Internet Exchange Point in a Caribbean country, but most recently, it was the Director of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission in Dominica, Craig Nesty, who was calling for more investment in capacity building and training in local content development, and in network deployment (Source: Dominica News Online).
The impetus for Mr. Nesty’s concern was the fact that although Dominica has excellent connectivity, it is not being leveraged locally – which many would argue is also the case in most Caribbean countries. Further, he was of the view that unless Dominicans becomes producers of content, and not just merely consumers of content that is created elsewhere, Dominica has not “truly joined the Internet” and is not capitalising on the potential the medium offers (Source: Dominica News Online).
The concerns raised by Mr. Nesty are valid, and resonate with ICT Pulse: we in Caribbean should become more than just mindless consumers of technology, but should should find our voice and have it heard. While Mr. Nesty sought to make some suggestions on what might be needed to foster more local content online in Dominica, below are matters that should be considered in trying to achieve that objective in the region.
1. Government should lead by example
Without a doubt, governments generate and store considerable volumes of information – across their ministries, department and agencies. However, much of it is stored in files and folders, and may even be archived either for future use or for posterity. However, with the thrust towards (more) Open Government, Caribbean governments could lead by example by making more of the information it stores and generates available online. Three areas readily come to mind:
- data. Consistent with efforts to promote Open Data, lots of statistical data, in particular, is generated and stored for several sectors and industries, however, public authorities tend to be reluctant to share it. They either make it costly to purchase, provide in a read-only (or non-digital) format, or just not permit access.
Further, many of those authorities recognise that the data they possess may have value, but they do not know how to harness it themselves and so are reluctant to share it with others. However, as a country, it means that not only is it not encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, there are also missed opportunities to benefit the country and their citizens.
- history and cultural heritage. In virtually all Caribbean countries there has been a focus on documenting our history and cultural heritage. However much of the history is stored in musty files and even mustier museums and archives. The Internet provides countries with an opportunity to share what is most unique about them, and to tell their stories – of their traditions, their heros and their experiences.
In addition to the records that have been stored, there is a somewhat an ephemeral aspect to our history: oral storytelling, which shares not only firsthand experiences, but also tends to bring colour and vibrancy to the known facts. Sadly, we are at a point where we will soon lose access to people who can recall events in the first half of the 20th century, if measures to capture their stories are not implemented soon.
- government documents and processes. As it current stands, every citizen (and resident) and business, must interact either directly or indirectly with the government in their country: from the cradle to the grave. Although, most Caribbean governments have implemented systems to facilitate some digital and online engagement with their citizens, it is still uneven. In many instances, basic forms and guidelines are still not available over the Internet, and if they are, they must be downloaded, printed and submitted either by post or in person to a specific office. Additionally, electronic payments are often not accepted, meaning that an individual can waste several hours on a regular basis standing in a line to conduct what might be pretty straightforward transaction.
Hence there is considerable scope for our governments to broaden and deepen the facilities and services they make available online. Not only would it increase their own efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency, but it would also be welcomed by their citizens and by local and international investors hoping to do business.
2. Local content versus local hosting?
Although it is not said, frequently it is implied, or even assumed, that much of the local content development that is being encouraged will be hosted in-country, or at the very least somewhere in the Caribbean region. However, web hosting facilities and services in the region tend to be limited, and often, are not as competitively priced as those being offered further afield.
Depending on purpose of the website, for example, if it is just to share information, but will generate no revenue, the site owner may be inclined to secure a cost effective option, which is likely to be based outside the region. However, that scenario does beg the question: how important is it for content be hosted locally to be considered “local content”? Is it enough that the site owner resides in a particular country for that country to claim that content on the website as “local content”?
3. Local market versus international markets?
Following from the previous point, and in circumstances where the aim is to develop a viable business, within the context of the Caribbean, and depending on the business, many of our countries are too small individually to make it viable. Frequently, in order to move a project from what essentially might be considered a hobby, to a sustainable business, the products and/or services offered ought to have wider appeal than just for a specific country.
It therefore leads to a broader question: for content to be considered “local”, must they be relevant primarily to individuals domiciled in a particular country, and that country’s Diaspora? Again, is it enough for the site owner, or business owner, to reside in a particular country for that country to claim the website as a “local website”?
In summary, there is much that Caribbean countries, and specifically their governments, can do in the first instance to increase the amount of local content that is available over the Internet. Further, those efforts are likely to stimulate their citizens to develop their own content. Whether or not, or the extent to which, the content is considered “local” may not be relevant. The bigger issue is realising greater participation by Caribbean citizens in the Internet economy: not only as consumers, but as suppliers of goods and services that are of interest to the local, regional, and even international, market.
Image credit: Stuart Miles (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)