Seeking consensus for development

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations (CANTO) held its 27th annual conference and trade exhibition in Suriname on July 10-13. The event brought together a range of equipment suppliers, operators and government officials and figured Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as a keynote speaker.

BNamericas spoke to CANTO secretary general Regenie Fräser, who touched on two of the main topics of discussion - number portability and the Connect the Caribbean project.

BNamericas: What were the main regulatory issues discussed at the conference?

Fräser: Number portability has been on the agenda for the last two or three meetings of the Regulation and Emerging Technologies Committee. The committee has taken the standpoint that it will not advise CANTO to take a position on this issue because there were too many conflicting opinions on it.

Instead, what we'll do is write an information paper on it, not a position statement.

BNamericas: What were the different standpoints?

Fräser: Some, like Digicel, found it too expensive. LIME said that customers should have a choice. The ECTEL [Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority] countries [Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines] did a survey, and I believe they are undecided.

The way to go about it differs from group to group. Some want to do just fixed, then mobile. Others say they will do mobile and not fixed.

So CANTO will not take a position on number portability. But in order to help other members we will write an information paper telling the members what is happening inside and outside the region on this issue.

BNamericas: Do you normally take a stand on regulatory issues?

Fräser: We do this to help our members when they deal with issues like VoIP, universal access and competition in their markets. And they find it easier if they can go to their regulators and say this is the standpoint of CANTO. At least they have something to work with.

So when we feel there is not a consensus, we will not take a position. Maybe if there is more agreement at a later stage we will.

BNamericas: In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have implemented it and Jamaica is doing a consultation on it. Do you know of any other countries that are looking at it?

Fräser: The Bahamas is doing a consultation on it.

BNamericas: What is the status with CANTO's Connect the Caribbean program?

Fräser: As you know, Connect the Caribbean is a spinoff of Connect the World of the ITU. Now it will fall under Connect the Americas. The ITU is doing Connect initiatives in five parts of the world - Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Arab States and CIS [The Commonwealth of Independent States that comprises the former Soviet Union].

Next year they'll introduce Connect Americas. We started a few years ago with Connect the Caribbean; however that is not an official region for the ITU so we will fall under Connect Americas.

BNamericas: What does that mean for all of the planning you've done?

Fräser: It means we're better prepared than ever. We don’t want to be absorbed by Connect Americas because of the small size of our countries. We want to have our own program. We want to go well prepared so we stand out.

We have the support of the ITU and have recruited a consultant to help us with all the project ideas that the agencies in the Caribbean have come up with. The consultant will pull everything together in a concept paper and we will probably do a preparatory meeting for the Caribbean before we go to Connect Americas because there you'll have all of the funding agencies, suppliers and investors who will decide which projects to back depending on how good the proposals are.

BNamericas: I remember that Connect the Caribbean was trying to get funding from the EU, but the process was going very slowly. What happened there?

Fräser: Yes, that's why we changed our strategy a little bit because there were so many projects going on with Caricom [Caribbean Community], the CTU [Caribbean Telecommunications Union], CANTO and CKLN [Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network]. And funding agencies were getting so many requests that they were telling us, "We have just approved lots of projects that have to do with getting businesses online or helping governments to provide their services more effectively and efficiently, e-government, e-commerce etc. " So they told us to come up with other things as they don't want to spend all of their money on one type of project.

So at this moment we have to sit down again and look at the different components, the different ways of doing things, so that the Caribbean agencies are not duplicating efforts. The consultant will straighten that out because we're not collaborating enough. The consultant will deliver a paper at the end of August.

BNamericas: You had a roadmap of three different projects - regional IXPs [internet exchange points], an e-business marketplace and setting up a regional community content creation and youth project. Are those still the main projects?

Fräser: What we're working most on at the moment is an e-content creation network. We organized a competition for mobile applications to be used primarily in the Caribbean. We have a couple of winners with apps that have mostly to do with entertainment, like music. We're encouraging young people to create their own content, and then our suppliers will look at them - Ericsson was one of the main sponsors - and see how they can monetize the applications. Three winners were from Trinidad and a fourth from Suriname. That is one of the spinoffs of Connect the Caribbean and one of the main projects we're looking at.

BNamericas: Obviously progress has been made with the regional IXPs [Grenada and the British Virgin Islands became the first countries in the English-speaking Caribbean to launch IXPs at the end of May].

Fräser: Yes, when we saw that the CTU was at a more advanced stage than us then we left it for them to develop further. Not everything has to be done by CANTO. There has also been some progress with the communities. One of our members, [Suriname state telco] Telesur, has come up with a proposal for a community with an e-market place. We have the documents of how it should be done but are still looking for funding. All of the other projects have been developed to a certain extent.

BNamericas: Now that you are part of Connect Americas, is your project still called Connect the Caribbean?

Fräser: Yes, and when Connect Americas is launched there still may be a project called Connect the Caribbean. Maybe Connect Americas will split up into Connect South America, Connect Central America and Connect North America. Those areas haven't taken specific initiatives yet, but we have.

BNamericas: Are you going to continue to look for funding with the EU?

Fräser: Yes, and we will also talk to other agencies as well like the Caribbean Development Bank, the Centre for Development of Enterprise and the Inter-American Development Bank.

BNamericas: Will it be up to you to get funding, or will the organizers of Connect Americas help you?

Fräser: It's mainly up to us, though Connect Americas may help.

BNamericas: When Connect the Caribbean first started there was a One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. Is that still part of it?

Fräser: When we started developing OLPC many people started saying they wanted the real thing [a fully fledged laptop, not a netbook]. So that initiative was chopped off.

But it's something that our individual members do in-country to provide laptops to schools and children. We have a number of members that have started their own computer donation programs for different Caribbean countries. Two Canadian companies - Sasktel International and Wireless IE - are donating to St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, respectively. And while the suppliers may donate computers, our operator members provide the internet service free of charge for a particular period of time. So that's another spinoff of Connect the Caribbean.

About Regenie Fräser

Regenie Fräser has been CANTO's secretary general since August 2004. She holds a master's degree in telecommunications from Michigan State University and has worked with Suriname incumbent Telesur holding several positions. Since her being at CANTO, membership has increased some 300%.

About the company

The Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations (CANTO) was founded in 1985 as a nonprofit association of telephone operating companies in the Caribbean. It now has 100 members in 38 countries.

CANTO's objective is to establish a forum through which operators can exchange information and expertise, influence policymaking and encourage dialogue with other like-minded organizations such as the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).

Whereas CANTO represents the operators, the CTU is made up of government representatives and deals more with telecoms policy issues among member states.