Guyana’s Prime Minister Calls On Telecoms To “Prioritise Long Term Returns Over Short-Term Windfalls” To End The Digital Divide
Miami Beach, Florida “Our goal must be nothing less than universal service…universal broadband service.” This from The Honourable Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Anthony Phillips, Prime Minister of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana; who delivered the keynote address at the 37th Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition of CANTO, the trade association of Caribbean telecom organisations. The flagship event of CANTO, opened at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, USA on July 17TH 2022, under the theme, Enabling the Digital Evolution.
Addressing a gathering of more than 300 participants, Prime Minister Phillips noted that the COVID-19 pandemic emphasised the increasing importance of ICTs; enabling coordination and collaboration in the workplace; social interaction and connectedness, and a range of business transactions. And while “ICTs became the lifeline on which our societies depended” during the pandemic; he noted that it also highlighted two critical issues; that of the inequity of access to internet services, or the digital divide, and the quality and reliability of internet content.
ICTs, Prime Minister Phillips noted, are a catalyst for the economic and social empowerment of nations, and therefore, “no country, no region, no town, no village, no community, and no person should be left unconnected; for we cannot begin to speak of Digital Evolution without addressing the manifest injustice and inequality of the underlying digital divide.” Prime Minister Phillips said only “true partnerships among the stakeholders in the sector” can adequately address the issue in the region. Adding, that this requires operators and service providers to become more invested here, in much more than the financial sense; “prioritising long-term returns emanating from sustainable, resilient economies…rather than cashing in on short-term windfalls.” The government of Guyana, the Prime Minister continued has done its own part to ensure an environment conducive to investment with the liberalisation of the telecoms sector in October 2020.
And lamenting the issue of diluted public trust during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guyanese Prime Minister also urged telecom operators, regulators and content providers to do more to encourage responsible internet usage. While the quality of internet content has long been interrogated around ideas such as internet freedom and the “absolute and untrammelled freedom of speech,” public health safety was threatened during the pandemic by misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy and other forms of skepticism about science-based public health measures, Prime Minister Phillips explained. In this context, the time has come to for telecom operators, regulators and content providers to “examine frameworks that promote and ensure responsible internet usage,” Prime Minister Phillips advised.
Echoing similar concerns around harmful internet content and universal connectivity, CANTO’s Secretary General, Teresa Wankin also called on the industry, to rise to the challenge of “providing solutions that allows for a safe, productive, and an affordable online experience for Caribbean and Latin American communities.” Secretary General Wankin noted that as the digital economy evolves; new revenue generating opportunities are emerge everyday within the new digital ecosystem, and the region “must catch and ride this new wave of opportunity.”
She also called on governments, regulators, telecom operators and ICT providers to preserve the gains made in the direction of regional digital transformation, during the pandemic. A return to work, she noted, should not simply be a return to the status quo, especially where a firm’s business can be enhanced and expanded by remote or hybrid work arrangements. “All must come together to enable the smart integration of digital technologies into the way we live, learn, work, recreate, and do business” Secretary General Wankin, said. This may require transition management initiatives, innovative funding arrangements, and training in addition to the deployment of hardware, software and the necessary regulatory frameworks needed to promote the digital transformation of the Americas.
Also bringing remarks was CANTO Chairman, David Cox, who re-iterated the organisation’s continued commitment to the region, providing the platforms needed to enable the cross-fertilisation of ideas, dialogue, and collaboration in a bid to foster its digital evolution. Adding, “CANTO’s agenda is not to tell people what to think, but to provide a forum where ideas can contend.” Mr Cox also extended the his gratitude to the Conference’s sponsors, Secretariat, and the CANTO Board of Directors; each for the role they played in the event’s success.
CANTO’s 37th Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition brings together 571 regional telecom operators, policy markers and regulators, technologists, providers of ICT solutions, and members of academia and civil society and will end on the evening of Wednesday 20th July 2022. Follow, conference highlights using CANTO’s social media handle at: https://www.facebook.com/CANTO.ICT