If you’re searching for the next wave of Internet development to come from the Caribbean, an international conference recently held in Bridgetown is a good place to start. Hosted by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), it gathered Internet stakeholders from across the Caribbean and North America for high-level talks under the theme “Caribbean priorities for the global Internet,” from April 10 to 12. 

ARIN is one of five regional Internet registries that coordinate the development of policies for managing Internet protocol number resources worldwide. The Washington DC-based non-profit organisation manages Internet number resources in Canada, the United States and several Caribbean territories.  

Collectively, the Caribbean is at an inflection point in the trajectory of its Internet development journey. Historically, Caribbean economies have largely been consumers, not producers, of Internet resources and services, relying on a handful of commercial interests to make important decisions about the growth, security and governance of the region’s telecommunications and computer networks. But the region’s Internet landscape has recently achieved a degree of maturity, with a critical mass of Caribbean stakeholders now taking their place at the table and demonstrating their readiness to participate in the global Internet governance ecosystem.

The ARIN Caribbean Forum was a clear example. It included three distinct meetings: an invitation-only justice sector group, an open public policy group, and a technical community group.

The justice sector group, focused on cybersecurity, was staged on April 10 in collaboration with APEX, a Caribbean agency with responsibility for justice technology. Military, police, law enforcement and public safety officers were among dozens of participants gathered to tackle Internet-related security threats and solutions.

In the public policy group, public sector and civil society representatives held talks on a more coordinated approach to the formation of policy that supports Internet development at the national and regional levels. 

“Governments are waking up and realising that the Internet is so crucial to their economy, to their citizens, to their businesses,” said John Curran, president and CEO of ARIN, who delivered the feature address.

“We are entering a new era. The dam has broken and governments have said, ‘We’re not going to let the Internet evolve on its own. We’re going to get involved and try to guide it to a productive end that meets our public policy goals.’ Civil society has said, ‘We’re at the table and we want to protect people and people’s economic interests and social issues.’ So you’re finally beginning to have dialogues that are more than just technical people working on technical solutions,” he added.

The public policy meeting was hosted on April 11, in collaboration with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). 

“We find that the Caribbean governments do not sit at the table in global fora where major decisions are made regarding the future of the Internet, but now that must change, and the CTU is working to enable that change. This is in keeping with the mandate of the CTU, as we build out the region’s ICT framework, in keeping with the requirements of the CARICOM Single ICT Space,” said Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the CTU.

“Critical mass does not come overnight. It will come but we have to put the effort to make sure that everybody sees that they can get value,” said Anne-Rachel Inné, Executive Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy at ARIN.

The technical community group meeting, hosted in collaboration with the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), was staged from April 10 to 12. It focused on a range of security and resilience issues, including best practices for domain name system security and the migration to next-generation Internet protocol, called IPv6. Beyond its packed agenda of technical presentations and expert panels, the meeting was a tangible expression of collaboration among the Internet bodies represented and it created an atmosphere of genuine connectivity among the various stakeholders present.

“Network operator groups serve the critical function of enabling the human connections that undergird the development of computer networks. Through 2019, CaribNOG will implement a program focused on deepening those human connections, both within the region and beyond,” Stephen Lee, program director at CaribNOG.

A longtime supporter of CaribNOG, ARIN provided a fellowship program to support persons interested in participating in the ARIN and CaribNOG meetings. The ARIN fellowship program offered the opportunity to attend the meetings at no charge, as well as hotel accommodation, round-trip economy class airfare and a stipend.  

Edward Mc Nair, executive director of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG), delivered the keynote at the CaribNOG meeting, focusing on the crucial role that network operators groups, or NOGs, play in supporting the human network needed to facilitate physical network development. 

“First and foremost, NOGs are about community, about people. The Caribbean region needs CaribNOG, a focused group of people who are on the ground, in the trenches, who understand the needs that exist there,” McNair said.

The ARIN Caribbean Forum immediately followed ARIN’s public policy and members meeting, held at the same location from April 8 to 10. It was the second instalment of the forum, first held in Miami on April 19, 2018, and it is indicative of the increase in ARIN’s outreach to the Caribbean since 2017, encouraging greater regional involvement in global Internet policy development processes. 

In 2018, the registry also launched a series of “ARIN in the Caribbean” outreach events which touched eight countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and the US Virgin Islands.  

“In 2019, ARIN plans to continue building on the foundation established over the last year. Our priorities include promoting capacity-building initiatives for the technical community, advocating IPv6 adoption, supporting the establishment of autonomous networks, encouraging law enforcement inter-agency collaboration, and facilitating greater participation in ARIN policy development and leadership,” Wooding said.

In the Caribbean, hearing much talk about Internet development is nothing new. But the advent and growth of these ARIN’s Caribbean initiatives promises to add much-needed momentum towards actually achieving regional development goals.