The Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations (CANTO) held their 31st Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition from 26 to 29 July 2015 in Miami, FL, USA. This year’s event, which was themed “Improving lives through broadband innovation,” assembled a broad cross section of stakeholders from the telecommunications/ICT and Information Society fields to address opportunities that the Caribbean could leverage for its digital development.
What were the main concerns put forward by Caribbean participants during the meeting?
Continuing from last year’s conference, the issue of regulation and cost sharing for Over The Top (OTT) services on Caribbean networks remained high on the agenda. Some Caribbean network operators have taken steps to block access to certain services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber amidst concerns about the disproportionate costs that are incurred for running these services. These network operators assert that existing legal frameworks in the region are unfair, as they (operators) are made to bear all the costs associated with this type of communication while OTT operators evade costs, obligations and responsibilities set by legislation. They also claim that the operational burden of OTT services on Caribbean networks render their investments in infrastructure less effective owing to the increasing disparity between the use of these data-intensive services and traditional voice communication.
On the other hand, Caribbean governments and regulators have acknowledged the inadequacies of current legal frameworks in general but contend that consumer patterns are symptomatic of the need for poor Caribbean citizens to access reasonably priced technology and communications. It was equally recognised that more needed to be done to strike a balance between innovation, investment and competition in Caribbean markets.
The Conference also touched upon various Information Society themes such as girls and women in ICT and youth empowerment through technology. Particular attention was paid to the Caribbean Women in ICT (CWIC) programme – a burgeoning initiative spearheaded by CANTO since 2014 that is intended to provide mentorship and support for girls and young women desirous of pursuing ICT careers. Youths between the ages of 18 and 35 were specially targeted through CANTO’s Annual Code 1.0 – a regional software design and developer competition that is co-sponsored by Demo Semo Sancus (DSS). The competition brought teams together to work on pre-indentified business solutions in an environment that simulated the decision-making table at a tech start-up company.
Is geography is a significant challenge for Internet development in the Caribbean? What solutions have been proposed to overcome this?
Geography still poses a challenge for some Caribbean countries given the compromise some network operators face when having to address infrastructural investments in difficult topography for small and micro communities. For example, while most of the population of the Bahamas is spread across a few of the country’s 700 islands and cays, ensuring fair and equal access may still be problematic.
The Caribbean has a perennial skills and capacity challenge, which has an overall effect on the development and competitiveness of many countries. As it relates to the ICT sector, CANTO has proposed a response known as the project for “Broadband Infrastructure and Public Awareness in the Caribbean” (BIIPAC). BIIPAC, which is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is intended to support the design of national broadband strategies from demand and supply perspectives, i.e. through diagnosis of infrastructure, regulatory and institutional frameworks and Information Society actions among other things. BIIPAC may provide welcome assistance to many Caribbean policy and decision makers who stand to benefit from research and step-by-step guidelines for ICT/Internet development in situations where resources to undertake such actions are extremely prohibitive.
Why is CANTO so important for the Caribbean?
As a trade association for network operators, service providers and technology vendors, CANTO has become an undeniable channel for dialogue on ICT/Internet development from an industry perspective. CANTO events drum up a lot of energy that teeters on the edge of useful disruption for business and policy communities involved in Caribbean ICT/Internet. LACNIC has recognised this growing potential over the years and is pleased to become an affiliate member of CANTO, especially as there are a number of avenues that both organizations can pursue to guarantee the development of an Internet that is open, stable and secure.
LACNIC’s participation in this year’s Conference included a number of collaborative activities with ARIN such as setting up a joint exhibition space, and hosting a reception and breakfast seminar for decision makers. On the last day of the Conference, LACNIC participated in a joint session with ARIN, ICANN and ISOC to discuss the ever-changing ICT ecosystem. Each of these activities provided ideal opportunities to speak about the exhaustion of IPv4 address space in the region, some of the possibilities afforded by LACNIC Community policies and the very Policy Development Process (PDP), which serves as an innovation in its own right. The PDP provides consistent, practical, multistakeholder solutions for number resource distribution, which is an approach that merits emulation for other challenges in governance and development paradigms.
More importantly, LACNIC’s presence at the Conference provided an invaluable opportunity to engage Caribbean people face-to-face, which was certainly appreciated by many participants. Both on and off the exhibition floor, many queries concerning LACNIC policies and activities were raised by a great number of interested participants, for which LACNIC had the pleasure of responding and elaborating. And while the issues that Caribbean Internet communities face are vast and complex, serving as an advisor for the numbers segment of the Internet ecosystem to these communities is indeed an incomparable privilege that we share with our friends at ARIN.
CANTO provides a space that embraces the Caribbean’s linguistic and cultural diversity, and focuses on the questions of ICT development that are central to all. The combination of the actor dynamic facilitated by CANTO together with LACNIC’s sharing of learnt lessons in multistakeholder processes can provide a unique advantage to Caribbean Internet development.