The Caribbean is making positive steps to develop Internet infrastructure and digital services, however, more needs to be done to train technical personnel and secure computer networks in the region.  

That was the message from the recently concluded 7th Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum (CarPIF) where technology leaders gathered virtually to discuss how to strengthen and secure critical Internet infrastructure in the Caribbean. 

The forum heard that without increased investments in human resource development, technical capacity and effective governance, the region could miss out on the social and economic opportunities available from the current digitisation initiatives.  

Bevil Wooding, co-founder of CarPIF and the Director of Caribbean Affairs for the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), explained that after more than a year of public health restrictions, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in demand for mobile and fixed broadband services.  

“Government services, education, courts, banks and many businesses have been forced to hurriedly migrate essential services online. For many across the region, this rapid transition has been jarring and often frustrating. Issues such as unreliable internet connectivity, the cost of internet access, and the fear of cyberattacks, are among the factors impacting widespread adoption of digital services,” said Wooding. 

He pointed out that the pandemic has opened the door to new opportunities for digital content creation, making more local services available online for Internet users in the region. However, he noted that the benefits have come with new risks. 

“The accelerated roll-out of digital transformation projects across the region is exposing longstanding gaps in the underlying human and technological infrastructure needed to support the digital services,” Wooding added. 

Shernon Osepa, Director of Caribbean Affairs of ISOC also pointed out that good Internet connectivity is still a challenge in many countries of the Caribbean.  

“Internet penetration varies from 25 per cent to over 85 per cent across the region. Natural disasters are also another recurring challenge in the region. That is why we need to focus on building telecommunications and Internet infrastructure that is both secure and resilient,” Osepa stated. 

Kevon Swift, Head of Strategic Relations and Integration at LACNIC, explained that building the required infrastructure is not a simple task or the responsibility of any single organisation. 

“CarPIF has been collaborating with Internet organisations, regulators and governments in the region to build human capacity and to support technical implementation of critical infrastructure in the region.”  

CarPIF is the region’s only dedicated forum for Internet service providers, network operators, digital content producers and policy makers from the Caribbean to get together with their counterparts from around the world to help shape the development of the Internet in the Caribbean.  

It was founded by Wooding and a team of Internet experts from various organisations to represent the diverse interests within the region’s Internet ecosystem.  

This approach was necessary, Wooding explained, so that countries could take a different, more integrated approach to decision-making around infrastructure spending, regulating ISP business practices, and even shaping cultural attitudes to Internet usage and local content development. 

“There are real barriers to digital innovation and Internet service resilience and security that stunt not only the development of the Caribbean’s Internet economy, but of its entire economy,” stated Wooding.  

“For example, most Caribbean cross-border Internet traffic is still exchanged outside of the region. In many countries, network service-provider policies and routing practices still reflect an expensive asymmetry that is disadvantageous to the development of Caribbean bandwidth and Caribbean digital content. This asymmetry is both in Internet routing and in Internet content development and represents a type of imbalance in trade, where the region is importing more bandwidth and content than it is producing,” he warned. 

Over 80 attendees representing telecom operators, Internet service providers, content owners and providers, regulators, data center operators, government officials, academics and other stakeholders, from over 20 nations and territories participated in the event.  

Speakers were drawn from regional and international Internet organisations, including Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), Internet Society (ISOC), Internet Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  

Albert Daniels, Senior Manager, Caribbean Stakeholder Engagement at ICANN underscored the benefits that working together can bring to the region.  

“The countries of the Caribbean have a common goal in ensuring that the Internet is secure, stable and resilient. We all want to see an Internet that is governed in a manner that provides economic and social benefit and value to all stakeholders in our region. So, while each organisation has a specific role to play, our approach to Internet development must be coherent and collaborative if we intend to achieve optimal outcomes.” 

Going forward, CarPIF plans to prioritise support for Internet service providers, exchange point operators, governments and regulators in their efforts to advance Internet development in the Caribbean.