Caribbean societies remain severely underrepresented at international meetings where decisions are being made concerning the development and governance of the global Internet. And for a region already burdened with a number of complex, deep-rooted and interrelated issues, the consequences of that chronic under-representation could be dire.
“The Internet presents wonderful opportunities for social and economic development,” said Albert Daniels, Caribbean-area manager for the Stakeholder Engagement Team of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
“But if global Internet Governance policies continue to be developed without the input of the Caribbean, then we will not recognise those wonderful opportunities or know how we can exploit them.”
Since 2013, the Saint Lucia-born Daniels, who is attached to the ICANN Engagement Centre in Montevideo, Uruguay, has been working to improve the level and quality of regional representation.
Missing the boat
“If the Caribbean does not participate in the global dialogue where important decisions are made about changes in the shape and direction of Internet policy and standards, then the region will tend to remain unaware of those changes, and that is true whether or not those changes are working towards our benefit.”
The irony, Daniels said, is that the Caribbean, because of its unique geo-political configuration, has great capacity to affect global policy-making. He gave the example of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which advises the ICANN Board on issues of public policy.
“Membership in the GAC comes through accreditation, and there is a seat available for every Caribbean nation,” Daniels said.
He explained that the Caribbean region, being composed of several sovereign states with small populations and in close proximity, has an almost oversized potential to weigh in on ICANN's global decision-making processes.
“As a whole, the region represents a substantial portion of the votes available at the GAC,” Daniels said.
“At the time that I joined in 2013, there were only four countries from the region represented--Jamaica, Trinidad, Montserrat, Cayman Islands. Since then, I've been able to assist Grenada, Dominica and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union with their GAC membership process, and they are now full members. The CTU has also become a member with observer status, as a regional treaty organisation.
"If half of the Caribbean countries would participate in the global dialogue, the region would be a force to be reckoned with. But policies are being developed without our input and as a result, they may or may not be working towards our interest.”
Casting a wider Internet
He offered ICANN’s new gTLDs programme as a specific example of how the region could be missing out. The gTLDs are the letters immediately following the final dot in an Internet address. Through the program, the number of gTLDS could expand from 22 to thousands.
“New gTLDs give corporations and regular Internet users the chance to operate under a name of their choosing, which helps enhance competition, innovation and choice. The new domains represent an opportunity for local communities, charities and small businesses to stand out from the crowd,” Daniels said.
“We could consider .Caribbean or .hotel or .rum, any name that a business person feels can create a commercial opportunity, not just at the national level but in the global marketplace.
"But what happens in the case where you have a commercial entity expressing an interest in a domain name that can also represent a geographic region like the Caribbean? Well, then the commercial entity could possibly get the domain name, simply because our region is sorely underrepresented and doesn't in the decision-making process.”