It is my pleasure to address this distinguished gathering, on behalf of the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, and to offer congratulations on this historic occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).
The year 1989 was one in which events of special significance to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) occurred: it was the year in which the CARICOM Single Market and Economy was put forward at Grand Anse in Grenada in the quest to deepen Caribbean integration; it was the year in which the West Indian Commission was established, and, not least, it was the year in which the Heads of Government, in Nassau, The Bahamas agreed to the establishment of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.
The CTU represents the translation into reality of the concept of creating an institution whose mission would be to ease some of the difficulties identified as hindrances to the development of the telecommunications sector in our region. Such difficulties included:
1. The fragmented policy frame of the telecommunications sectors of member countries; for example, inadequate legislation;
2. The problems of frequency-incompatibility between and among member countries;
3. The lack of Caribbean input in major international issues, which disregarded the rights and sovereignty of the Caribbean states, thereby denying them opportunity; and
4. The absence of coordinating machinery to facilitate an increase in the impact of resources and assistance for Caribbean telecommunications development.
This anniversary provides the opportunity for critical self assessment in order to examine to what extent these mandates have been fulfilled and where we need to go from here. In so doing, we need to be cognizant of the fact that the entire landscape of telecommunications has changed in a way that few could have predicted at that time.
Twenty years ago, the Region, much like the rest of the world at that time, was vastly different from what it is today. For instance, CARICOM was a grouping of thirteen English-speaking Member States, most, if not all of which, had a single telecommunications company and, in the case of twelve of them, it was the same company which was responsible for telephone and telegraph services, as well.
Our telecommunications needs were happily met by the presence of large analogue telephones in strategic offices and households. Very few of our states had multiple radio and television stations and the word “digital” applied to fingers and toes! Cell phones and laptop computers were still in their infancy and weighed a good deal more than they do today. Banking wire transfers were exactly what the name implied, conducted through teletype machines, and telex was still in vogue.
But 1989 was also the year in which Englishman Tim Berners-Lee penned his now famous article entitled: “Information management: A proposal”. It is reported that his then supervisor described it as “vague, but exciting” before giving the nod to take the proposal forward. That one paper became the catalyst that changed the way the world communicates, shops, gathers friends’ together, dates and does business. One year after the proposal was sent, the World Wide Web was formed ushering in the Information Age, and the rest, as they say, is history!
The dramatic change which brought about this information age is attributed to the pervasiveness of information and communication technology, including the World Wide Web and the Internet. Marshall Mc Luhan’s description in the early 1960s of “electronic interdependence” which he called the “Global village”, took life through the rapid advances in telecommunications technology, and the “digital divide” widened the chasm between developed and developing countries.
Those who mastered and owned the technology ruled the waves. It was into that reality that the CTU was born. It is against that background that it has been attempting with some success, to provide the Region with the type of service that will facilitate the growth of the telecommunications sector.
This struggle is taking place in an era where the effective use of telecommunications is linked with economic and social development.
Telecommunications is now seen as having a direct impact on:
1. The diffusion of new ideas and knowledge ;
2. Reduction of infrastructure- and development- gaps;
3. Economic production processes;
4. Market efficiency;
5. Coordination of all types of activity;
6. Global communication; and
7. Rural and urban development
Even as we seek to optimise the role of telecommunications in our development, the one constant factor that is at the heart of all our efforts is the need for people to communicate. This is driven by personal, professional and commercial desires and it is this fact that has engaged the attention of those who devise all these new methods to facilitate this communication.
There are now more media by which to communicate than ever before and this poses continuing challenges for our regulators. It therefore requires that a body such as the CTU should continue expanding its capacity to provide empirical data upon which the relevant national bodies could rely in making their decisions. Such research would aid the cause of development of the sector and so improve the chances of the Region to be inserted into the global economy.
It is no accident that two recent reports commissioned by CARICOM Heads of Government point to the role of the telecommunications sector both as a driver of economic change and for its social benefits. Professor Norman Girvan et al, in their Single Development Vision delivered in 2007, stressed the need for a strong telecommunications infrastructure as one of the elements in moving the Region towards viable and sustainable economic development. In the Report of the Task Force on Functional Cooperation (2008) ICT and Telecommunications is seen as one of the priority areas which would redound to the benefit of all CARICOM Member States.
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, as the telecommunications sector in the Region steps through the door that has been opened and positions itself to be in the vanguard of the new Caribbean, the CTU has shown that it is very well placed to be a significant influence on the direction that the sector will take. The theme chosen for this year’s celebratory meeting – “Shaping Caribbean Communications” is therefore very apt.
In support of this theme and the role that the sector must play going forward there are some questions which can apply:
1. Where do we want to go?
2. How do we effectively serve our various publics?
3. How do we grapple with all the emerging technologies and evaluate their relevance to and impact on the people of the Region?
4. How do we ensure that the right products and services reach the appropriate public?
5. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, how does a CTU adapt to meet these changes?
The answers to these questions could lead to finding the path to progress. There is room for much dialogue as we seek the answers and apply the solutions. The real test of attainment is when our publics and stakeholders approve of the answers and solutions we have provided.
In closing, I wish to extend heartiest congratulations to all the previous Presidents and Secretaries-General of the CTU who have steered this institution to this point and, in particular, to the serving President and Secretary-General, as well as members of the CTU Staff. Yours is a difficult and unenviable task but it is one you will continue to carry out in distinction. I wish to assure you that the CARICOM Secretariat remains committed to working closely with the CTU, as we advance the Region into a viable, single, economic, social and information space by the year 2015.