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Caribbean well positioned to capitalize on Internet growth, says Internet Society report
Published on February 22, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

WASHINGTON, USA -- The Internet Society has released its “Removing Barriers to Connectivity in the Caribbean” report, together with recommendations for increasing Internet adoption in the region.

Reflecting the Caribbean’s diversity in size, language, political structure and economic development, the report presents a detailed look at the region’s unique set of connectivity challenges and gives guidance for overcoming these barriers. In particular, it highlights significant progress that has been made as well as the opportunity that exists for better knowledge-sharing between countries and for governments to do more to drive greater Internet use.

Internet adoption in the Caribbean has significantly increased thanks to the growth in use of mobile phones and the deployment of free/public Wi-Fi networks. Second generation mobile services cover the majority of the population and now newer, third and fourth generation services supporting mobile broadband are being rolled out.

Despite this, challenges remain that prevent most countries from becoming digital societies. Internet use in the Caribbean varies considerably – from as low as 12% of the population in Haiti, to more than 80% in The Bahamas and Barbados.

Key among these challenges is the lack of policies that enable Internet infrastructure development and use. In particular, legal frameworks and laws that promote affordable telecommunications services through fair competition are needed. Currently, policies that enable the development and use of Internet infrastructure are underdeveloped and focused on promoting basic voice communications.

“The Caribbean has done much to increase Internet penetration in the past few years. Every country in the region, including the 11 selected for this research, is connected to the global Internet network via submarine cable systems. This is great news. However, governments have been largely more reactive than proactive in nurturing the development of the Internet to meet their countries’ needs. Among the things that governments can do is provide investment incentives to improve coverage,” explained Kathy Brown, president and CEO of the Internet Society.

While many Caribbean countries are focused on providing cost-effective access to the Internet, they should also encourage local content online and leverage the potential of the Internet as a platform for business and innovation. Most Internet users in the region are mainly consumers of content created elsewhere.

“It’s important for Caribbean societies to not only use the Internet for entertainment and consumption of content, but also as a tool to improve efficiencies, optimize processes, and drive innovation,” Brown said.

In the region, government-implemented systems and processes tend to be models for – or at least shape – the practices adopted by the private sector and society at large. Caribbean governments can influence the extent their societies embrace the Internet by transitioning to more e-governance and making online engagement mandatory for certain transactions. For the private sector, governments can play a key role again by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship and providing incentives.

The Internet Society report outlines the following recommendations to bring the benefits of connectivity throughout the region:

1. Develop clear and forward-looking policy and regulatory frameworks that focus on developing the Internet and information and communications technology (ICT) both in individual countries and across the region as a whole.

2. Encourage greater private-sector participation and innovation by fostering increased competition in the Internet access market and promoting open access to shared facilities, such as telecenters and innovation hubs (iHubs).

3. Implement initiatives that improve digital literacy and increase the availability of free Internet access in public institutions.

4. Adopt a regional approach and system of collaboration on common problems and goals to take advantage of the benefits -- particularly in implementation costs -- thanks to the economies scale that can be realized. Geographical proximity and commonalities could contribute to the development of a regional Internet ecosystem.

“There are many opportunities for the countries in the Caribbean to learn from each other and to collaborate more closely in developing key Internet infrastructure,” Brown added.

The “Removing Barriers to Connectivity in the Caribbean” report features input from Internet Society chapters and members in the Caribbean including Barbados, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic. The organization is promoting Internet development in the region through efforts to build capacity, raise awareness via research, consultations and policy engagement.
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