Why are we still speaking of ICT as the “Next Economic Pillar”?

Is ICT the “next economic pillar”? We have some difficulty with that view and explain why.

 

One of the news articles that was included in the roundup published on Monday, was a short report of a speech given by Mr Edison Sumner, Chief Executive of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, in which he sought to encourage greater focus on ICT in the Bahamas:

Our fibre optic connectivity is bar none, our geographic location to the Americas is the most ideal…
…We are situated where we can service the Caribbean and the Americas. We have not taken full advantage of that situation, and if we were to get more people involved we can grow the ICT sector….

…I think that ICT can become the next real pillar of the Bahamian economy without fail. We have have worked tourism and financial services, but neither of those two industries – especially financial services – can work without technology being in place.

Source:  Tribune 242

Although the comments were being made in the context of the Bahamas and its current economic posture, it is somewhat bewildering to still have people – who you hope by now would know better – touting ICT as the ‘next big thing’. Suffice it to say, ICT already is a ‘big thing’! However, sadly, our policymakers and business leaders appear not to have realised this, as the sentiments expressed by Mr Summer are still quite common.

Evidence of the importance of technology is over 20 years old

Occasionally, and when relevant, many industry experts point to the studies conducted by the World Bank and Strategy& to name a few, that were conducted about 10 years ago showing the relationship between increased broadband penetration in households and economic growth, especially in developing countries. However, as stated, the research is already 10 years old!

Going further back, to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the thrust towards cheaper telecoms services began, it was appreciated – even at that time – that increased commercial and country competitiveness would be realised. Moreover, the impact on (global) competitiveness was a key impetus for Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica and the ECTEL Member States, to be early out the gates in liberalising their countries’ telecoms sectors, from the monopolistic regimes that had obtained at the time.

Since then, and increasingly so, technology has been, and still continues to drive competition and efficiency across the entire commercial sector. For example, gone are the days of dial-up Internet service in the Caribbean in the mid-to-late 1990s, when you were trying to connect at a download speed of 14.4 kbps. Today, and across the region, individuals can purchase a broadband Internet plan with an advertised download speed of 100 Mbps, which is well over 10,000 times faster than what was available less than 20 years ago.

We are still lagging behind

So why are we still talking as if ICT, and its potential, is still in the future? Caribbean countries and their citizens are already enjoying the benefits of it, and are also being subject to its impact in business, and with respect to investments and security, to name a few.

What such a posture suggests is that Caribbean countries still have not positioned themselves to fully harness ICT. Unfortunately, whilst we – as countries and a region – might eventually get our act together, it would be prudent to manage expectations. The ICT/tech space is not static: still evolving. Hence unless countries make a concerted effort to leapfrog beyond their current trajectory, we are likely to still remain behind, and not fully realise and benefit from the impact of ICT on our economies.

 

Image credit:  Pixabay (Pexel)

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1 Comment

  • The impact of ICT is indeed already evident. In the caribbean we are now benefiting from past ICT investments. But when growing an economic pillar I assume they refer to the development of ICT as an export product. Wouldn’t you think so?

    Shouldn’t the caribbean become more active in content creation? Software and app development could become a successful export industry for the caribbean. Personally I think there is one big limitation. Our IT-students don’t return to the caribbean after they study abroad.

    How can we cater to their needs in order for them to return?

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