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THE ISSUE: Adequate technology enables commerce


Natasha Beckles

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The role of telecommunications in the advancement of modern economies cannot be ignored.
According to communications specialist Hallam Hope in the May 10, 2010 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, it is well accepted that there is a direct correlation between social and economic development and an ongoing strategy to implement Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy.
He said business and public sector productivity gains and people’s upward social mobility have driven countries such as Hong Kong, India, South Korea and of course Singapore to continuously place emphasis on implementing ICT policies.
“And these countries have seen tangible gains which are measured in the form of increased national competitiveness against competing older economies such as Britain, Canada and the United States,” he said.
Hope noted that Barbados and other Caribbean countries have, however, encountered challenges which countries such as the newly industrialized countries, or NICs, have seemingly overcome.
For example, he said Barbados has been grappling with the design and implementation of an ICT policy for about six years.
He noted that reliable information is key to economic planning.
“This is one area that continues to be lacking in Barbados and hence I have no difficulty in appreciating why an ICT policy, which should be a living strategy and plan, does not exist.
“That’s because an ICT policy is essentially a road map. This road map should chart a way and be the guide for continuous implementation of programmes that are designed to increase a country’s competitive advantage or at least increase its competitiveness vis-à-vis the global economy,” he said.
Hope said Hong Kong, South Korea, India and Singapore are emerging economies simply because they recognize this nexus of ICT policy and competitive advantage, or national competitiveness, and have invested heavily to change the shape of their economies.
As a result they have not allowed interlocking policies on communications to lag and, in fact, have continuously invested in the knowledge-oriented work to achieve their national economic goals.
According to the April 4, 2011 DAILY NATION, the Economist identified Barbados as a world leader in both telephone-line connections and mobile phone subscriptions when measured per 100 head of population.
In its latest global ranking for telephones, the weekly paper which publishes an annual Pocket World In Figures placed Barbados at No. 10 among the world’s top 40 countries.
Barbados had 58.8 telephones for every 100 people in the country in 2008, the latest year for which statistics were available.
At the same time, the proliferation of cellphones in recent years has pushed Barbados into sixth place on the worldwide listing, with 159.1 mobile phones per 100 people.
In effect, there are telephone lines in almost every house in the country and on average there are 1.5 cellphones for every person in the country.
In both telephone lines and cellphones, Barbados had more telephonic connection than Britain, France, Canada, Spain, Italy, Ireland and any African or Latin American nation.
Digicel Barbados chief executive officer Barry O’Brien said studies showed that there was a direct correlation between gross domestic product and the number of mobile handsets in the marketplace or the percentage of people who have mobile handsets. He was speaking during a Press conference in recognition of the company’s seventh anniversary in the island.
“Mobile handsets enable commerce. From your high-end spending corporate clients right down to the guy who is spending only a dollar or two per month, it’s important for everybody. I think we have made a great difference not only to mobile telecommunication but to the entire economy,” he said in the February 1, 2011 WEEKEND NATION.
“Straight after the actual launch there was a fundamental shift in the prices, the value being offered and the way mobile telecoms actually operated here. We brought in innovations like per-second billing, [and] cheaper international calls and mobile penetration here in Barbados increased dramatically,” he said.
However, the May 23, 2007 DAILY NATION reported that while new digital technologies and the convergence of media like the Internet are restructuring how creative expression can be developed, the region is behind in exploiting such forums.
According to the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) during its meeting with the Council for Trade and Economic Development in St Lucia recently, CARICOM has lagged in diffusing such technologies and developing upstream high-value services and products due to inadequate telecommunications infrastructure and high costs.
“There is still no well-defined regional ICT/ telecommunications policy that will maximize technological opportunities for the creative and other sectors,” said Ramesh Chaitoo, head of the CRNM’s services trade unit.
He said the region had not yet devised effective incentive programmes or financial assistance for the telecom sector despite the worldwide growth in media such as cable broadcasting and the Internet.
As a result, Chaitoo said, intellectual property regimes remained weak and piracy continued unabated in this region.
“Proper regulatory structures and supporting policies have not been developed to fully utilise the opportunities within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) from which the Caribbean creative sector can launch into the global economy from a position of collective strength,” he said.
Meanwhile, Britain’s most successful black entrepreneur, Piers Linney, told a group of Barbadian businesspeople last month that the quality of a country’s Internet connectivity plays a major role in its economic development.
The chief executive officer of Outsourcery, Britain’s first carbon-neutral unified communications and hosted information-technology solutions company, was the featured speaker at the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation’s fourth entrepreneurs’ forum.
In the April 4, 2011 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY Linney noted that “you cannot build an entrepreneurial economy or any economy these days without decent connectivity”.
“In the old days you built roads, canals and railways. Now you’re building information superhighways, Internet connections.
“You can’t expect an economy to grow and be all it can be with one [megabyte per second] download and 250 [kilobytes per second] upload.
It’s not going to work. That will have a direct impact on GDP.”

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