THE SIN­GLE ICT SPACE

CARI­COM moves ahead with plans for a har­monised ICT net­work through­out the Caribbean

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY CATHER­INE MOR­RIS, STAR BUSINESSWEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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.

PRO­JECTED BEN­E­FITS

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

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