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Tuesday 12 December 2017
News

Data: the new oil

As we develop ideas and projects (clearly, we have abandoned planning) to diminish the country’s dependence on hydrocarbons, it appears that some effort is being expended in this country to emphasize access to data services as a source for economic growth.

Oxford Business Group reported that at a conference titled “Internet of Things: Smarter Living in the Caribbean”, the Minister of Public Administration and Communications, Maxie Cuffie, declared that a new broadband strategy aimed at widespread access to internet services was almost finalized. The hope is that if we were to increase the reach and speed, as well as the number of Wi-Fi-capable devices, then maybe we will see positive effects on the economy. Minister Cuffie stated that, “This level of potential connectivity presents, then, the perfect storm for the mushrooming of internet of things, and we believe that data is indeed the new oil”.

It would appear that data is seen as a diversification tool. Minister Cuffie added that developing broadband was part of a broader package that places emphasis on using Information Communication Technology (ICT) as an effective pathway of enabling fast and efficient distribution of public services, and inspiring business growth in an increasingly diverse economy. The government appears to be hoping that the private sector would continue to take the lead in internet and ICT development, with the government intending to increase its function as facilitator of development.

There is also the intention for the government to offer the population universal access to basic telecoms and broadcasting services, through a widened network of free Wi-Fi access points across the country. Gilbert Peterson, who is the chairman of the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, revealed that there was a plan to deploy 45 Wi-Fi hotspots in public places across the country. These public spaces will include waiting areas at public hospitals, major transportation hubs, water taxi and ferry docking areas, and public libraries. He further added the intention to close the digital divide and “connect the unconnected” also includes plans to accelerate the licensing of frequencies called white-space devices, by September.

Oxford Business Group notes that this country’s efforts to move towards a more knowledge-based economy and fully connected society may have caught international interest. Amazon Web Services, appears to be looking at this country as a new market for expansion. Its representatives were in the country for three days in April, holding talks with both the government and businesses.

Other noteworthy developments include the state-owned service provider Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) announcing in early May a TT$225m ($33.5m) buyout of Massy Communications, part of the Massy Group, to increase the products consistent with the digital economy. This will give TSTT ownership of Massy’s existing fibre-to-the-home infrastructure, made up of more than 900 km of cable connecting approximately 34,000 residences.

Ronald Walcott, CEO of TSTT, said we must see the buyout “as part of TSTT’s current TT$3.8bn ($564m), five-year strategic plan. We clearly indicated we have one primary mandate and that is to transform TSTT from a legacy 20th-century telecoms provider, to an agile broadband communications company.”

Oxford Business Group holds the view that this country can benefit from a regional drive among CARICOM members to promote electronic cooperation. In May, CARICOM member- states approved the Integrated Work Plan for its Single ICT Space. Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General at CARICOM’s directorate for trade and economic integration, indicated that the programme would facilitate cooperation in digital management across key areas such as legislation and infrastructure.

It is generally agreed the diversifying this economy is critical for the future development of this economy. Where is the plan that spells out how this is envisaged?

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