FCC Chairman calls for more digital opportunities for Caribbean people

The chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is calling on Caribbean stakeholders to work together to advance the development of the Internet so that the region is not left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

"No matter what you do for a living or where you do it, broadband is critical,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. 

He delivered remarks to delegates over the first two days of a Caribbean telecommunications and Internet conference held in Panama City by regional trade association CANTO. 

Pai said the FCC was continuing to encourage U.S. telecommunications service providers to migrate from the old copper-based cables to modern fibre-optic cables, which are an essential component of the underlying infrastructure that enables broadband Internet networks.

“Part of the reason why we’re reorganising our regulations is to encourage companies to make the difficult investment decision to upgrade to fibre is that every dollar that is spent maintaining a fading copper network is by definition a dollar that cannot be spent on next-generation technology,” he said.

Pai said his upbringing in a rural community gave him a unique appreciation of the importance of using communications technologies to connect communities that are in danger of being left behind.

“If you are a teacher and you want your students to be as competitive as any other student in the world, you need to be able to give them the world at their fingertips. It’s no longer enough to be able to say, ‘Just go to the encyclopaedia and see what you can find.’ Now they need to be able to download videos that explain concepts in a way that is accessible to students. And that requires broadband,” Pai said.

He also touched on the potential for computer-based technologies to radically transform agriculture industries.

“A lot of people when they think of agriculture, they think of old analog tractors and hand-held tools. But increasingly, integrated technology has become critical to increased productivity and efficiency,” he said.

“In this region as in any other region, no matter what you’re doing there’s some application of technology that can make your work easier, more efficient and cheaper, all for the benefit of our families and communities.”

He painted the picture of Internet access as a tool that can transform Caribbean communities by giving citizens greater self-determination and enabling organisations to take control of their destiny.

The conference, which was held from July 22 to 26, attracted a wide range of stakeholders from across the region’s Internet and telecommunications industry, including regulators, government ministers, policy makers, Internet organisations, network operators, suppliers and vendors.

“One of the things I love about forums like this is the opportunity to sit with my counterparts. I find it fascinating to be able to hear from them about some of the challenges they are facing and some of the strategies that they have for meeting those challenges. Every country is unique, every region is unique but I can learn from them and draw lessons to apply in my own work, taking advantage of the benefit of the wisdom that they have accumulated,” Pai said.

He added that he was looking forward to sharing insights and providing assistance, citing the issue of disaster recovery as one potential area for collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

“I’m calling on all of us to work together to bring digital opportunity to all the people of the region,” Pai said.