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THE ISSUE: Battle to offer best ICT service

Natasha Beckles

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A lot has happened in Barbados’ telecommunications sector over the years. But even in light of the significant developments which have taken place this year alone, a lot still remains to be done to ensure that information and communications technologies (ICT) improve the island’s competitiveness.
In the April 22 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, officials of the newest entrant to the telecommunications market said they were not worried about competition from incumbents LIME and Digicel.
Rather, representatives of FLOW said expansion was high on the company’s agenda.
Noting that he was optimistic about the Barbados market, incoming managing director of FLOW Barbados Niall Sheehy said the company was already prepared for any competition and had the network capacity.
He said they already had “a good” customer base from the acquisition of TeleBarbados and had pinpointed “a hunger” in the market for faster speeds and more bandwidth.
Saying that each market was unique and the challenges were different, Sheehy described the Barbados market as having a “sophisticated and educated” customer base.
Noting that the company had been trying to enter the Barbados market since 1998, Reid said it took more than a decade to set up operations because of difficulties in obtaining the necessary licences.
“It took Barbados a little longer to get to the point where [it] felt new entrants should be permitted,” he said.
However, he said now that FLOW had entered the market the next move was to capitalize on available opportunities while developing the sector.
In the April 15 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY chief executive officer of Digicel (Barbados) Limited, Barry O’Brien, expressed confidence that the ICT sector in Barbados was set to further expand in the coming months.
His comments came during the company’s ICT conference at which it officially launched Digicel Business – a range of ICT offerings for corporate clients.
O’Brien said it was the company’s goal to have 25 per cent of its revenue arising from ICT by 2014.
“In 2012 ICT revenue as a percentage of our overall revenues reached double digits and with our plans we are confident we can achieve our 2014 target,” he said.
O’Brien said mobile penetration in Barbados continued to increase and that studies had suggested that by 2016 Internet users would double to four billion globally.
“Everybody here knows Digicel as a successful mobile company,”?he said. “Digicel now wants to be also known as a successful ICT company.”
The May 16 DAILY NATION reported that LIME had invested $100 million in the expansion and development of its fibre optic network across the country.
The company was expected to install an estimated 1 000 kilometres of fibre optics over an 18-month period in over 70 per cent of households and businesses, stretching from the north-west to the south-east.
Noting that the fibre optic network installation started since 2007, but on a small scale, then managing director Alex McDonald said the investment in the technology and renewed interest suggested the company was confident in the local economy.
“This step is the natural next step,” he said. “We are expressing a sense of confidence that our economy is worth the investment, and our people are worth the investment.” 
He said the fibre optic network would result in faster Internet speeds as well as new competitive rates.
Earlier this year it was reported that Barbados had lost its top spot as the most-wired nation in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report, which ranks IT productivity and infrastructure worldwide, put Barbados at number 39 in the global Networked Readiness Index 2013 – down four places.
According to the report, on 144 states and territories, Chile is the top performer in Latin America and the Caribbean – ranked 34 (up from 39) followed by Puerto Rico, which stayed at 36.
Barbados remained one of the best performers in the region, the report said. This was credited to its outstanding educational system (seventh) and very high connectivity, both in terms of ICT infrastructure and digital content (38th) and in its level of Internet users (30th), but the still-high cost of accessing ICTs (111th) was listed as a hindrance.
However, the report said the Barbados government seemed to lag behind in fully leveraging the potential of ICTs.
“Despite recognition of its vision for developing ICTs (36th), the offerings of online services for citizens and businesses (95th), as well as the opportunities for citizen participation (111th), remain limited,” it added. 
“Addressing these weaknesses and strengthening the overall innovation capacity of indigenous firms (91st) would allow Barbados to benefit more from ICTs,” it said.
In the April 12 WEEKEND NATION, Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss announced that Government was introducing changes to encourage greater use of ICTs across a range of organizations.
Among the changes are amendments to the legislation governing the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) to allow it to “effectively regulate all telecommunications entities” operating here.
Inniss added: “Likewise, draft amendments to the Companies Act have been undertaken, which when legislated, will result in a dramatic increase in use of online transactions with the vital Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office.”
The minister added that “most” Government departments were at various stages of reviewing their telephony “and general ICT infrastructure” in order to obtain the most cost effective, efficient and portable systems. He said the changes should result in “huge” financial savings to the Government.