Broadband roll-out in the Caribbean has become one of the most important Information and Communication Technology (ICT) issues in the Caribbean. This is a subject that is high on the agenda of CANTO as well as Caribbean telephone companies, governments, regulators and consumers. Broadband is seen as being critical to the economic and social development of the Caribbean region. This is however, not only important for the Caribbean region but the entire global community. Broadband is seen as a cross-cutting issue which is important for the development of all sectors of society.
The ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development in its 2014 report on the State of Broadband stated that “High-speed, affordable broadband connectivity to the Internet is a foundation stone of modern society, offering widely recognized economic and social benefits. High-speed broadband is no longer just cutting-edge technology for an elite few; instead, the steady march of connectivity among the broader population is slowly but surely transforming our society”. This provides a clear endorsement of the approach by global ICT stakeholders to not only continue, but accelerate the roll-out of broadband. However, for this to happen requires the collaboration and cooperation of all ICT stakeholders.
Telephone companies in the Caribbean have been making great strides in rolling out broadband across the countries they serve. However, this rollout is still not at the level that is required and efforts are being by all ICT stakeholders to ensure that this important aspect of Caribbean development is treated as a priority issue. As Caribbean ICT stakeholders strive to promote increased broadband penetration, they now need to work together to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of the region.
The objectives and goals of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be assessed during 2015. The results of these evaluations will be a major factor in the development of the post-2015 development agenda. Following these evaluations, Caribbean countries will be able to see what progress they have made in terms of ICT development as well as overall sustainable development. There will also be an indication of how their development compares with other countries. In the Caribbean there have been great efforts to provide broadband connectivity to all sectors of society. The influence of the WSIS and the MDGs has seen cooperation between governments and telephone companies in providing connectivity to governments, schools, colleges, post offices, hospitals and civil society, among others.
There is still some uncertainty about the definition of broadband. Broadband was defined by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2001 as transmissions at a minimum speed of 256 Kilobits per second (Kbps). This may seem rather low but it is the accepted starting point for many organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). At the time of the definition, 256 Kbps was the most basic speed offered by Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) service providers in OECD countries. The definition has remained, but it should be noted that at the present time, in no OECD country is the minimum speed less than 10 (Megabits per second (Mbps). Caribbean countries can therefore follow a similar approach, starting at 256 Kbps as a bare minimum, but ensuring that there are greater speeds for various applications.
In the Caribbean there is not yet a universal definition of broadband and consideration should be given to this. Therefore, Caribbean countries need to use 256 Kbps as the basic starting point for deciding on what level of broadband will be suitable for the region. In this regard, Caribbean countries need to decide as a matter of some urgency on the national targets for broadband to communities, businesses, schools and other users. This target would be reviewed on a regular basis. Telephone operators need to be made aware of the requirements of the region and endeavor to satisfy these needs. In addition, it should be possible to verify the broadband speeds available in each country.
The US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently updated its definition of broadband in the United States. The FCC broadband benchmark speeds are now defined as 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. The agency has now stated that the 4Mbps/1Mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way.
It may be necessary to define major uses of broadband in the region, examine required speed and make decisions on the speeds of transmission that should be provided. In this regard it is clear that there will be a range of values since the requirement of businesses and educational institutions will be different from those of private users. Provide service to various rural communities may also pose challenges. Countries of the Caribbean will therefore need to start with the minimum recognized speed and work with telephone companies and regulators to achieve greater, verifiable broadband speeds. At the moment there is some uncertainty about broadband speeds and once 256Kbps is provided, that could be classified as broadband. Telephone companies will be able to say they are providing broadband since they can show that there is a minimum of 256Kbps in some areas and greater speeds elsewhere.
With respect to ICT infrastructure development, including broadband, it is now clear that most telephone companies are somewhat reluctant to establish terrestrial networks and are therefore developing mobile networks. Given the present focus of establishing4th Generation (4G) networks and also to prepare for the advent of 5G, there is an urgent need for additional spectrum which will facilitate the rollout of broadband services.
ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-2015)
From 2 to 27 November 2015, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will be convening the 2015 World Radiocommunocation Conference in Geneva. This conference will examine global frequency requirements and it will make available radio frequency spectrum for not only mobile services but all other radiocommunication services using the radio frequency spectrum. This also includes radio frequency spectrum to be used in the tracking of aircraft in flight.
Given the importance of this conference, especially for mobile services, CANTO has already been examining this matter and has written to Caribbean governments and other stakeholders, indicating the desire to cooperate with them in ensuring that the needs of CANTO’s members as well as the entire Caribbean ICT sector are met at the above-mentioned conference. It is of utmost importance that Caribbean governments, regulators, operators, organizations and other stakeholders commit the necessary resources to participate in this conference.
Countries are already making proposals to the ITU for the necessary spectrum for different services. It is very clear that there is a serious shortage of spectrum for the mobile service which will facilitate the rollout of mobile broadband. Since Caribbean countries are classified by the ITU as countries in Region 2 (North, South and Central America and the Caribbean) it will be necessary to have dialogue with other countries in order to see what positions are being developed and what positions best suit the needs of the Caribbean.
One important part of the conference will be to decide on allocations (especially to the mobile service) in the 700 MHz band, most of which is at present allocated to the Broadcasting Service. However, with the transition to Digital Broadcasting, this band is now ready to be re-allocated to non-broadcasting services and the mobile service is expected to be the main beneficiary. It is therefore important for Caribbean countries to enter ITU discussions and negotiations at the conference on this subject in a unified manner and seek the best possible allocations for the region. This will of necessity involve cooperation with other countries of the Americas region (ITU Region 2). Many other frequency bands will be considered and these are also important for providing the necessary resources for the advancement of mobile broadband.
Changing Caribbean ICT Landscape
Since the last CANTO Annual Conference and Trade Show in 2014, the telecommunications landscape in the Caribbean has been dramatically altered. This is the result of the acquisition of Columbus International Inc. (operating as Flow) by Cable and Wireless Communications PLC. The number of service providers in the region has now been reduced by one. There have been mixed reactions to this development and the governments and regulators in the Caribbean were required to examine the matter and decide on the way forward. After undertaking the necessary studies and evaluations, a majority of regulators have so far given their approval to the acquisition and in most cases specific conditions were laid down. Consumers in the region have been questioning whether or not there will still be competition but Caribbean regulators have indicated that they will ensure that a competitive environment is maintained.
Caribbean Regulatory Environment
The roles of regulators globally, including those in the Caribbean, have been changing, ever since the liberalization of the telecommunication sector some 20 years ago. Regulating ICTs is one of the very important tasks in ensuring that there is orderly development of the sector and the needs of all parties are considered. This is not always an easy task and it is clear regulators are under tremendous pressure to ensure that telecommunications service providers are provided with adequate spectrum resources, to ensure that there is competition, to ensure that consumer interests are taken into consideration, to ensure that government interests are always considered and to ensure that there is an environment that will favour investment and growth.
The 2014 Edition of the ITU publication “Trends in Telecommunication Reform 4th Generation Regulation: Driving Digital Communications Ahead” describes the major regulatory changes that have taken place as follows:
First Generation: Characterized by monopoly (public or private) utilities which were closely managed with the intent to encourage improvements in efficiency and service.
Second Generation: Characterized by partial privatization and licensing of competing infrastructure providers. This phase focused on balancing the goal of opening access to the incumbents’ networks while also protecting the incumbents’ investment.
Third Generation: With full privatization/liberalization regulation shifted towards a focus on protecting competition in service delivery and content, bearing in mind the needs of the consumer;
Fourth Generation: The Fourth Generation involves regulators overseeing an increased range of services delivered over multiple broadband and converged networks that form the digital ecosystem. More than ever before, regulators are being asked to protect consumers from a range of problems including inappropriate content, faulty billing and fraudulent online activities, and anti-competitive activities.
The work of Caribbean regulators does not promise to get any easier, but it is an extremely important part of the ICT sector and it is critical to the objectives of regional governments to gain maximum benefits from this sector. Caribbean regulators have ensured cooperation through their umbrella organization the Organization of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR). This is very important for the region, especially in the light of CARICOM governments’ desire to have a single ICT space. Going forward, it would help the cause of the region if important decisions are coordinated by regulators and applied in the same manner in different Caribbean countries. Consequently, decisions being made in terms of spectrum allocation should, wherever possible, be done on a regional basis, thereby helping to ensure that spectrum users in the Caribbean would have the same spectrum allocations wherever they go in the region.
CARICOM Single ICT Space (CSICTS)
Efforts to develop and implement sustainable actions in ICTs have long been on the CARICOM agenda for some time, starting with the CARICOM ICT Connectivity Agenda of 2003.In 2009 CARICOM developed its Regional Digital Development Strategy (RDDS) for the period 2010 to 2014, which has been subsequently revised. Key among the objectives was the need for a CARICOM single ICT space. Some of the targets have been met, including developing model laws and regulations, while others, such as development of methods for collecting and updating ICT statistics, have not been as successful. The result is that many Caribbean governments question the veracity of data collected and published by international organizations.
One important aspect of the CARICOM strategy was the need for cooperation in all aspects of ICTs in the region, including among agencies such as CANTO, Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority ECTEL, OOCUR and CARICOM. The issue of spectrum management was also mentioned as one of the areas for cooperation. For this to happen, regulators should, among other things, try to have common spectrum allocation strategies thereby leading to more efficient spectrum usage. This would fall in line with activities now being undertaken by the CTU.
At the March 2014 meeting of Heads of Government, CARICOM leaders agreed on the “establishment of a Single ICT Space to enhance the environment for investment and production”. The Heads also agreed that technology should be brought to the people who they wanted to see as digital citizens and digital entrepreneurs. All CARICOM member states were also asked to affirm ICTs as a national and regional priority. Furthermore, the implementation of a CARICOM Single ICT Space will be an important factor in the success of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
It is clear that there is every expectation that CARICOM will implement the CARICOM Single ICT Space. It is now an important part of the next steps to be taken by regional governments. However, for the desired results to be achieved there must be significant broadband development, without which may of the goals and objectives of governments will not be achieved.
As the Caribbean proceeds on a path for greater broadband connectivity, it must also be aware of the dangers that are associated with such development. In fact, within the declaration by Heads on the CSICTS is the recognition of the importance of placing strong emphasis on cybersecurity. Therefore, as the region strives to increase broadband development, concomitant with that must be the development of cybersecurity capabilities to deal with the threats that will arise. Many countries have started to address this matter, but activities in this regard should involve all countries.
CANTO’s 31st Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition will be held from 26 to 29 July 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Miami. This annual event continues to be the most important forum for Caribbean ICT stakeholders to discuss and obtain information on the status of ICT developments. Foremost among the subjects to be discussed will be the continued development of broadband, the CARICOM Single ICT Space, the ICT regulatory environment, the impact of Over-the-Top Operators and the views of governments, regulators and operators and other stakeholders.
Among the highlights of the CANTO Conference and Trade Exhibition will be:
• A Ministerial Roundtable that will look at various policy aspects of broadband including broadband innovation, the CARICOM Single ICT Space (E-Government), Spectrum matters and Over-the-Top Operators;
• An Operators Roundtable which will deal with innovations in the mobile industry;
• A Regulators Forum dealing with innovations and challenges in regulating the ICT sector in the Caribbean;
• Caribbean Women in ICTs and the importance of empowering women through ICTs;
• A CANTO/IBM Hackathon involving computer programming and software development;
• Discussions and presentations on market trends, mobile innovations, importance of content,
• A Trade Exhibition which will be showcasing important aspects of ICT developments globally and in the Caribbean. The CANTO Exhibition will continue to be an important forum where ICT stakeholders are able to obtain first-hand information and have discussions with industry leaders on the latest developments and innovations in the ICT sector.
• The HR Forum, the Marketing Forum, as well as the BIIPAC Component 4 workshop.