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Press Release:Technology almost a decade later | Our region’s biggest innovations are still no match for its biggest challenges So what now?
The Digital Divide
Over the course
of the past decade, significant progress has been made in terms of
technological innovation in the telecommunications industry. Between
advancements in both submarine and terrestrial fiber (optic), broadband
technology, cloud services, and information and communications technologies (ICT’s)
in general, industry leaders have managed to further technological capacity.
Unfortunately, however, while the technology itself has been widely lauded,
many of those in developing countries have not enjoyed its benefits.
Due to the lack
of a broad cohesiveness within both the public and private sectors, a slower
than desired response from regulatory agencies, high entry barriers, widespread
poverty, and a perceived stubborn refusal to implement change, many regions –
especially those in the Caribbean and Latin America [LATAM] – have lagged in
joining the globalized knowledge economy. As the industry moves forward, it
becomes less a question of invention and more about implementation; rather than focusing their efforts solely on
devising the “next big thing”, organizations at every level must now work to
bridge the gap created by the ever-present “digital divide,” a term that denotes the technological gap
that exists in regions where ICT and broadband are
unequally accessible, or simply not utilized to be most effective, throughout
issue with digital usage in these regions is that it has been directed almost
exclusively at mainstream consumers, which has not led to a profound impact on
all areas of society. This is a problem for two reasons in particular: one
being that low-income segments are often unable to benefit from the services
being offered, as lack of a sufficient PC-home penetration still plagues a
sizeable portion of the populace; and two being that without the involvement of
stakeholders at large, the market would be mainly entertainment-based with
little focus on the industry’s realizable potential – nation-building.
Disconnect Between Technology and Accessibility
Broadband and ICT are now considered to be essential resources, similar
to other infrastructure assets –water, transportation, healthcare, etc. – in
this modern, globalized society. While its necessity is obvious in today’s
world, however, it is a need that is not easily attained in the Caribbean and
As an active participant
in the region's telecommunications industry, Columbus Communications has had
ample experience in identifying many essential things in these areas that
said Columbus’ CEO, Brendan Paddick, “as you travel in countries like
Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Columbia […] you see a lot of
Yet, while the
situation is apparent enough, Paddick’s remarks acknowledge the absence of
critical necessities that exist in many places throughout these regions.
Whether it is impoverishment, lack of a sufficient healthcare system, or
unequipped educational facilities, there are a number of critical issues that
need to be dealt with across these developing countries.
What many people
fail to recognize or simply take for granted, however, is the important roles
that connectivity and technology play as these regions attempt to move forward
and address their problems. Embracing ICT and broadband technologies is both a
cause and consequence of economic growth, and it should come as no surprise
that increased wealth subsequently spawns – or enables access to – an increased
pool of resources.
As of now,
however, digital awareness in the Caribbean and LATAM is at a relative low
compared to developed countries like the United States. For example, 96.3% of
U.S. households have access to wired broadband, while countries like Trinidad
and Tobago and Panama have an Internet penetration of 53.2% and 43.4%,
respectively, and they reflect percentages higher than the region’s average.
That means that almost an entire population is connected in the U.S., while
less fortunate countries in the Caribbean and LATAM generally hover around or
well below a 50% connectivity rate.
however, is not simply dependent upon the available technology, but upon its
widespread recognition and understanding, proactive deployment and affordable
pricing. While companies like Columbus have been successful in penetrating
regional markets, their future success is also dependent on the willingness of
others stakeholders to join them in their mission as enablers.
“Broadband is not
ubiquitous,” said company president and COO, John Reid, “There are still many
rural areas that don't have access, or at least access to "real” broadband
(i.e., they have dial-up). So, the challenge for many governments and the
private sector is to extend the network cost effectively to reach these
The process to
both adopt strategies and subsequently enable sweeping accessibility is
not as simple as its description may imply. It is a slow task that requires the
cooperation of both the public and private sectors to define goals
and identify cost-effective solutions. Nevertheless,
it is clear that all stakeholders must make a collaborative effort and
undertake a holistic approach to address these similar objectives, rather than
try to attempt to find individual solutions to the same challenges.
Breakable Barriers to a Brighter,
Healthier and Stronger Society
A major deterrent to enabling access in the
Caribbean and LATAM regions is the general lack of a strategic vision for the
future at an administrative level. Even where it is possible for the available
technology to be introduced, it is either improperly utilized or not used at
all. Governmental bodies, have the power to raise awareness and promote the
widespread usage of ICT, which if done in an effective manner, can lead to the
development of a healthy information-based society.
States that have
adopted mechanisms such as e-government, e-commerce, e-health, and e-learning
are at a greater advantage to affect digital competency, as each of these are
important drivers of increased broadband and ICT adoption. Public investment in
such an infrastructure, alongside policies that promote universal access and
thus lower entry barriers to those very services, would not only benefit the
industry, but would give an incentive for private investors to follow suit.
This, in turn, would spur demand, create jobs and, therefore, simultaneously
boost a nation’s economic and social welfare.
Organizations that adopt ICT solutions – especially in countries where
many owners and operators still operate under more traditional, less efficient
modes of dealing with critical information – prompt others to follow suit. This
adoption thus initiates a snowball effect, which subsequently leads to
increased productivity and decreased costs of doing business in those regions.
Effectively inducing small, medium, and large enterprises to integrate ICT and
broadband into their own infrastructures is, according to Reid, a “larger
challenge,” and can “best be described as a work in progress.”
That is not to
say, however, that no progress has been made to facilitate these initiatives
throughout the Caribbean and LATAM regions. Institutions such as the Caribbean
Association of National Telecommunications Organizations (CANTO) and the
Caribbean Telecommunications Union [CTU] work closely with government
ministries to implement broad strategies that, in effect, increase both ICT and
broadband usage, as well as aid in spreading access to these technologies in
more remote regions.
organizations thus work as facilitators of regional growth – economically,
socially, and culturally. By targeting policy-makers, broadcasters, regulators,
operators, and so forth, they seek to catalyze the potential returns from and
instill the importance of ICT and broadband technologies. In effect, they strive
to be enablers for marginal or otherwise underserved groups, and build demand
for information and telecommunication services.
CTU, for example,
operates an ICT Roadshow Initiative that travels from country to country and
encourages governments, businesses, institutions, and individuals to “harness
the power of innovation.” Through its endeavors, the organization acts as a
sort of technological ambassador, as it attempts to expedite nationwide
transformations by encouraging and enabling the switch to an information-based
As well as these initiatives, companies like
Columbus have been working hand-in-hand with regulators to find cost-effective
infrastructure solutions to further enable access. "The continual
reduction in the cost of network construction," said Reid, "has
resulted in a gradual improvement in access for the rural areas of countries
[…] Wireless technologies may present the best solution. The lower
cost associated with a wireless infrastructure may be more appropriate as a
broadband access solution in remote areas, rather than constructing a higher
priced fiber infrastructure."
It is essential, therefore, that all stakeholders work together to
adopt and attempt to perpetuate the use of ICT and telecommunications
technology. Individuals and businesses would begin to understand how these
technologies are not just meant for the privileged and serve a greater function
than surfing the web or watching one’s favorite television show; schools could
offer students more universal education, doctors could help patients from a
distance, and governments could spread messages to the remote areas of their
Individual groups cannot push society forward single-handedly. If
anything can be learned from those places that have put forth broad, efficient
technological implementation plans, it is that a collective effort is required
if the Caribbean and LATAM regions wish to effectively advance into the future.
For further information please contact:
Public relations manager
Columbus Communications Jamaica Limited
Inc. is a privately held diversified telecommunications company based in
Barbados.The Company provides digital
cable television, broadband Internet and digital landline telephony in
Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and Curacao under the brand name FLOW and
in St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Antigua under the brand name
Karib Cable. Columbus also provides corporate data and cloud based services
under the brand Columbus Business Solutions. Through its wholly owned
subsidiary, Columbus Networks, the Company provides capacity and IP services,
corporate data solutions and data center hosting throughout 27 countries in the
greater Caribbean, Central American and Andean region.Through its fully protected, ringed submarine
fiber optic network spanning close to 18,000 km and its 24,000 km terrestrial
fibre and coaxial terrestrial network, Columbus' 2,400 plus professionals
provide advanced telecom services to a diverse residential and corporate client
base of over 550,000 customers. Visit www.columbus.co