Implementation Keys to the Single Caribbean ICT Space
By Bevil Wooding
In 1989 the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) was announced as an initiative “to deepen the integration movement and to better respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by globalization.” In the proceeding years, both the challenges and opportunities for the Caribbean have increased. As the potential of globalization evolved into a new global reality, Caribbean economies and Caribbean society have undergone unprecedented transformation. Today, the question of deeper Caribbean integration is not just an ideal, it is an imperative for the region’s survival.
Rationale for the CARICOM Single ICT Space
The Single Market and Economy was envisioned to provide for the free movement of capital, skilled labour, and the freedom to establish business enterprises anywhere within CARICOM. It was intended to foster greater economic cooperation and greater social cohesion among participating member states.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has always been foundational to the twin ambitions of economic and social development. At the national level, CARICOM member states have all identified ICT as a critical development enabler. In any regional integration effort ICT is equally critical to enabling such areas as commerce, trade, research, administration and security.
Examples abound. Information and communications technology is a central pillar of integration strategies in the European Union, the Federal Government of the United States, the African Union and the Asian Economic Community. In every case, an overarching vision for integration provides a framework of defining objectives to guide policies, priorities and implementation plans.
The priority of ICT to Caribbean region should be no different. Any plan for national development or regional integration must, of necessity, incorporate strategic appropriation of information and communications technology. This is why a Single Caribbean ICT space is not just desirable; it is necessary to enable the practical components of the regional integration effort.
The economic benefits to be derived from movement toward a single ICT space can redound positively to Caribbean society. Its fruits should be manifest in areas such as health and education, community empowerment, security and job creation. For such benefits to be realized, however, development of a Single ICT Space must be rooted in the understanding that technology is simply a servant of the region’s larger development vision.
Within CARICOM, however, that single vision has been considerably dimmed the slow pace of implementation of some of the basic tenants of regional integration.
At a meeting of Caribbean ICT stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union last June, several pertinent questions were put to CARICOM Government ministers by the audience:
“Why should I care about ICT if I still can’t easily move and work freely across the Caribbean?”
“How is it I can go to the US and rent a car using my national Driver’s Permit without question, but I have to purchase a license to drive in other Caribbean countries?”
“Why is it still so difficult for me to set up a business in another Caribbean countries?”
“Why does intra-regional air travel cost so much?”
“Why is so easy to set up a merchant account in the US to accept payments online and I can’t do the same in the Caribbean?”
“Why can’t I make a call to other CARICOM countries without have to pay roaming or international charges?”
“Why should I create anything in the Caribbean if I cannot easily register a regional patent or protect my IP it in a court of law?”
Tangible Results Needed
No satisfactory answers to these very relevant questions were offered. That’s a problem. The chasm between proclamation and implementation needs to be closed. There must be publicly perceptible value associated with the initiatives of the Caribbean Community. If implementation of important public-facing elements of the wider integration process continues to lag, the value proposition of any other element will be legitimately questioned and undermined. Any further erosion of public confidence only gives voice and vindication to a ready chorus of naysayers.
Vision to Reality
Advances in information and communications technology are radically altering the options and operations of business, governments and consumers. In particular, the Internet, mobile computing and the proliferation of web and mobile applications have permanently transformed how we interact and transact. As the global landscape evolves, so too must the region’s business, regulators, policy makers and leaders.
A single Caribbean ICT space should power our movement towards a single, seamless Caribbean space. The promise of a brighter, better Caribbean future remains within reach. Technology can indeed enable it, but it will take bold new leadership and better-coordinated human effort to achieve it.
Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN, a Caribbean based international non-profit organization, and the founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Focus Areas for Implementing the Single ICT Space
To enable the Single Caribbean ICT Space, 10 critical areas in the region’s ICT sectors must be addressed:
- Legislation: Update and harmonize regulatory, legislative, financial and intellectual property protection policy to reflect and better respond to changing landscape
- Investment: Increase pubic and private sector investment in telecommunications infrastructure (particularly mobile broadband infrastructure) to improve access to critical telecommunications and Internet infrastructure in the region. This requires new models and new approaches to conceiving and capitalizing infrastructure projects.
- Regulation: Regulation and market growth must go hand-in-hand. A streamlined, modern, progressive regulatory environment is key to providing the competitive landscape with the safeguards and incentives that benefit commercial providers, consumers and wider national and regional development.
- Collaboration: The relationships and partnerships between the business community, public sector and academia will be key to sustainable development. Collaboration cannot be legislated, but it can be strongly encouraged.
- Affordability: Reduce cost of access for telecommunications services (including mobile, broadband; roaming charges; spectrum; and termination rates for data and voice).
- Incentives: Increase incentives to content creators and application developers to build the local content that connects Caribbean users to Caribbean digital content. Governments and Private sector support key to sustaining initiatives and training programmes that build capacity in content creation and service delivery.
- Education: The mindset, culture-shift and human capital needed can only be had with more a deliberate, strategic approach to education and social development.
- Public Awareness: Increase investment and effort at public education and consciousness-raising. An engaged media, an informed public and enlightened decision-makers will be key to implementation.
- Human Resource: The availability of skilled, knowledgeable human resource pools is key to developing the region. The education system is in need of radical reform if the region is to produce to quality and quantum of professionals needed to secure its forward advance.
- Leadership: Political proclamations must be matched by political will. At the end of the day, actions, not words will determine if the dream of a single ICT space becomes a reality.