THE SINGLE ICT SPACE
CARICOM moves ahead with plans for a harmonised ICT network throughout the Caribbean
It may be a single region, but there’s a lot of digital diversity in the Caribbean. While some countries have embraced technological trends and are feeling the benefits in their economies, communities and infrastructure, others lag behind, barely able to maintain their outdated networks.
CARICOM hopes to address this issue with the Single ICT Space, an ambitious plan to bring all member states up to the same level, harmonising legislation and policy throughout the islands and encouraging investment, competition and growth.
WHAT IS THE SINGLE ICT SPACE?
CARICOM first proposed a single ICT regime in 2011 as part of discussions around a regional digital strategy. It was thought that a unified network would support CARICOM’s Single Market and Economy, providing a digital layer to the existing framework.
The idea passed through various levels of bureaucracy until it was finally vetted and approved by the CARICOM Heads of Government in February 2017, giving stakeholders the impetus to move forward with the goal of completing the roadmap by the end of 2022.
The roadmap has four key objectives: harmonising policy, regulatory and legal regimes, creating a robust broadband infrastructure, establishing common frameworks for government, providers and consumers, and promoting secure technology and management systems.
Speaking to ICT-Pulse, Deputy Programme Manager for ICT at the CARICOM Secretariat, Jennifer Britton characterised the Single ICT Space as “an attempt to unify our ICT market and create an ICT sector where all the countries benefit [so we can] support investors both inside and outside of the community”.
“We have always worked as a region, in the sense that the stronger will bring the weaker ones along. It’s not going to do away with all the good things countries are already doing but will build on those,” she added.
GETTING UP TO SPEED
Removing regional borders in the ICT environment requires every nation to meet a common standard. With some nations more mature in their ICT development than others, there is a concern that those at the back of the pack will slow growth.
Saint Lucia has been slow to make progress in its ICT capability but there have been recent efforts to address the digital divide. In 2015 the government launched a partnership with Taiwan to deliver the US$4m Government Island-wide Network (GINet) project which will increase internet penetration. Offering consumers free or low-cost internet services, GINet began implementation in May with the Canaries wifi zone and has since spread over the island, with the aim of creating 663 hotspots in five districts.
The concept of a single ICT network is already a familiar one for Saint Lucia, and its Eastern Caribbean neighbours. Established in 2000, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) sought to harmonise the ICT environment among its five member states: Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia. Local regulators in these countries work with ECTEL to foster a common approach to policies, tariffs and ICT frameworks. This has given service providers and consumers a simplified and consistent system among the Eastern states, as well as providing operators in the sector with a united voice in regional and international discussions.
Since the Single ICT Space roadmap was approved in February 2017, CARICOM has been working with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union to implement the strategy.
CARICOM’s Council on Trade and Economic Development, which has responsibility for the initiative, met in Guyana in June to discuss sectoral linkages through ICT, ICT disaster risk management and cyber security. The Council has committed to meet twice a year to review progress on the Single ICT Space and will convene again in the last quarter of the year.
A Single ICT Space in the region would have huge repercussions on almost every aspect of life in the Caribbean, from the way citizens interact with government to how businesses deliver goods and trade across borders. Education, healthcare, transportation and manufacturing—every segment of society can benefit from enhanced ICT capability.
A redesigned telecommunications landscape will not only allow providers to offer better and more diverse services, it can also reduce costs, eliminating an important barrer to ICT uptake. Negotiations are currently ongoing to remove roaming rates on VOIP, with CARICOM hoping to incentivise operators to write-off their roaming revenues.
A more harmonised Caribbean is a more competitive Caribbean. Access to a high-quality network would streamline government processes, improve the ease of doing business in the region, facilitate cross-border e-commerce, create a modern workforce at ease with technological processes and strengthen the current cybersecurity protections. All of which
will make the Caribbean better able to economically compete on the world stage.
But installing a whole new ICT ecosystem will not be easy and stakeholders will have to move quickly to keep up with the dynamic IT arena. Establishing the Single ICT Space will require intense regional and institutional collaboration, creative leadership and an enhanced level of public awareness as CARICOM strives to make the Caribbean a community of digital citizens.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Minsters of Information and Communications Technologies have endorsed the roadmap for the region’s Single ICT Space. From left: ASG, Trade and Economic Integration, Mr. Joseph Cox; Chair of the Meeting, Minister Guy Joseph and Deputy Programme Manager, ICT4D, CARICOM Secretariat, Ms. Jennifer Britton