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ON THE LEFT: Single ICT space can bring benefits

Irwin LaRocque

ON THE LEFT: Single ICT space can bring benefits

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Information and Communication Technology (ICT) combines information, knowledge, processes, and technology to provide a foundation for driving efficiencies and fuelling innovation.
It is no surprise, therefore, that in the course of consultations during the past year with stakeholders across the region for the Caribbean Community’s five-year strategic plan, ICT emerged as one of the major areas of focus identified to spur our growth and development.
ICT is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy. It has spawned a deeply connected and digitized society which has created a completely new economy – the digital economy – which speaks to economic value derived from the internet and other ICTs.
We must therefore, not fail to include it as an important part of our regional economy since it is an enabler of growth through increasing our efficiency and productivity. It has to be a significant factor, as we forge a path towards a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). ICT must be viewed as the new frontier for regional integration.
Despite the much reported benefits of ICT, its development and adoption by developing countries, such as ours, have so far been limited. Reasons for this include lack of awareness of what ICT can offer, insufficient telecommunications infrastructure and Internet connectivity, expensive Internet access, absence of adequate legal and regulatory frameworks, shortage of requisite human capacity, failure to use local language and content, and lack of entrepreneurship and a business culture open to change.
That reality has already been recognised by CARICOM as evidenced by the design of a Regional Digital Development Strategy with an accompanying Action Plan for implementation. The elements of that Strategy include: the development of a CARICOM Single ICT Space; capacity building, regional policy direction, leadership and governance, innovation and efficiency; all of which lead to a CARICOM Information and Knowledge Society.
The establishment of a Single ICT Space brings to the fore real benefits for consumers and businesses in our Community. The objective is to fully establish modern regional regulatory and open telecommunications infrastructures with affordable networks using converged technologies, to provide affordable and universal access. This would positively affect such issues as roaming rates, provide for a single area code as well as address copyright, spectrum and broadband matters.
Just as important as that single space is the development of a human resource capacity in the sector. This is fundamental as we seek to build a digital culture across the Community and increase the value and volume of the region’s trained ICT workforce that can create, develop and use ICT to improve lifestyle and economic value.
Promoting such initiatives would also foster innovation and increase our competitiveness, both of which are essential in achieving our goal of sustainable economic growth and development.
In implementing the Regional Digital Development Strategy, there is a role for all the relevant regional institutions and the private sector. Some of these institutions such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, Caribbean Centre for Development Administration, and Caribbean Examinations Council along with the regional universities are already engaged in initiatives which  with proper co-ordination would greatly assist the achievement of the objectives of the strategy.
Irwin LaRocque is Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community.