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Pushing the tech agenda

CTU head says region needs to accelerate ICT progress
Published: 
Thursday, November 9, 2017
BERNADETTE LEWIS PICTURE SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Imagine a world where a school child no longer needs to lug around a heavy book bag but, instead, the only thing he carries is a tablet loaded with all academic-related information.

The child is equipped with a biometric chip and as soon as he enters the school a sensor automatically registers that he is on the school compound.

The risk of kidnapping is reduced as with the biometric chip, the child’s whereabouts can be traced.

The child’s temperature is automatically registered as he enters the school gate so if he begins to fall sick this information is automatically sent to the database of the school nurse.

This is not the subject matter of a sci-fi movie but technology that is now available to improve people’s safety and bring greater efficiency to people’s lives.

Bernadette Lewis, secretary general, Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), explained some of these modern day, high-tech solutions to Business and Money at her office in St Clair.

The CTU was established in 1989 by the Caribbean Heads of Government as it was recognised that the telecommunication sector would have a role to play in T&T and the region’s development.

Its primary focus is to develop policy in this area and to co-ordinate projects for the region.

CTU represents 20 member countries across the region.

In 2003 the organisation expanded to include the business community and other civil society groups among their membership.

She said the industry has turned “upside down” since the organisation was founded in 1989.

Since that time there has been a convergence in the fields of telecommunications and information technology.

“Back then we were speaking about circuit switch technology where there was dedicated paths for communicating information. So when you used your phone there was a physical dedicated path to that call.

Then there was the development of internet protocol. What that did is that someone no longer needed a dedicated physical path. There are networks available to allow you to get the information efficiently. So now any piece of information that could be digitised could be launched on the network like voice, data and video.”

She said speaking about telecommunications alone is outdated as there has been a convergence and the field should be referred to information and communication technology.From November 27 to December 1, the CTU will host a conference in the Bahamas entitled “ICT Week, the Bahamas.”

The aim of the event is to help regional government ministers and business leaders understand the present technologies that exist.

ICT and CSME

Lewis noted that in Caricom’s Vision and Road Map For Single ICT Space document, the intention is establish a single digital space for the Caribbean.

She said business across the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) can be enhanced with the right technology.

“It will be a single digital platform on which the CSME will ride. 50 years ago we were talking about integration but the evolution of information and communication technology gives us a tremendous opportunity for real, functional integration.”

The CSME makes provisions for the free movement of goods and services but with the digital platform it will make immigration among member states much more seamless.

“You could eliminate the need to fill out those forms when you travel in the region. Authorities could issue a regional ID card with the appropriate biometrics. Just swipe and go through. You’re already seeing this in other countries.”

She said if the authorities of one island is looking for a citizen on another island the information can be digitally stored and photos and other information can be digitally transferred.

ICT and governance

Lewis lamented that many of the systems of government bureaucracy are now outdated.

“They are based on practices that are centuries old. At the time of Independence if you wanted a particular service from the Government then you needed a form in triplicate. Now in the era of information and communication technologies, I just need to enter than information once on a computer on a database.”

She said the CTU has done a lot of work in the area of spectrum management. For every communication device like a mobile phone or tablet there needs to be radio frequency spectrum.

“All of this should happen within a framework so that when a person presses the remote to open his car, it does not open your house or something else. Those things must be harmonised and the CTU has worked on policy for this in the region. So we need to know what frequencies are used for what services across the region.”

The CTU also established the first internet governance forum in the world.

“Internet is an important resource. So we are speaking about the physical infrastructure, content, privacy, all of these things are related to internet governance.”

She concluded by saying that the technology is there but there must be the “political will” from Caribbean Governments to employ modern technology to improve citizens’ lives.

“We have been speaking about these things for more than 20 years and it is still not happening in some cases. We need to cultivate a new calibre of leadership across the region.”

She said they are working with the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) and service providers like Digicel and bmobile.

”One of the things the CTU has to do is raise awareness that these things exist.”