Caribbean policymakers to discuss data privacy at regional Internet Governance Forum

The meeting is part of an effort by several Caribbean countries to establish and strengthen policies to ensure that Internet users’ personal information is collected, shared and used in appropriate ways.

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St Kitts and Nevis to host ICT Week

st kitts nevis flagWhen a high-level group of Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) members meet in St Kitts and Nevis from September 22 to 26 September, the challenge of regulating over-the-top (OTT) Internet-based services will no doubt be a main point of focus. In one important forum, a discussion on OTT services will bring ministers from different Caribbean nations up-to-date on the issues surrounding this type of service. The need for stronger, more coordinated regional Internet governance practices was first highlighted in July after mobile phone users in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were affected by a move by two major Caribbean mobile providers to block access to OTT telephony services—including several popular Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications.

The week will also include a two-day workshop on cyber security, which will focus on how Caribbean countries can create Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) to respond to the threat of digital breaches. The workshop is being facilitated by the Organisation of American States, with the financial support of the Government of Canada.

Another workshop will target senior public officers with responsibility for national information and communications technology (ICT) policy. Participants will learn how to find and deal with gaps in their policy frameworks or in some cases how to go about developing such policies. The training will be led by two experts from Ernst and Young Caribbean, based in T&T, Dr. Arnold Niranjan and Devindra Ramnarine.

Hosted by the government of St Kitts and Nevis and the CTU, the ICT Week will include the 17th General Conference of Ministers with responsibility for ICT in the CTU Member States. It also includes the 29th meeting of the CTU’s Executive Council, a body made up of permanent secretaries from ministries in the region that deal with technology. The Council has oversight responsibility for the work of the CTU Secretariat.

At this year’s meeting, Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the CTU, will present to the meeting her report on the CTU's performance and its progress on ongoing projects. Lewis’ is the tough but necessary task of steering the CTU’s efforts in creating a harmonised approach to Caribbean telecommunications development, a major issue facing the region’s technology and telecommunications sectors. In her presentation, she will update members on how the work of the CTU has advanced since the previous council meeting, held in  Suriname on April 8 to 9.

The CTU’s efforts in Caribbean Internet governance have been longstanding. Established in 1989 by Caricom heads of government in Nassau, the CTU in 2005, under Secretary General Lewis, initiated the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF), the world’s first regional multi-stakeholder Internet governance forum, established as a result of the World Summit of the Information Society (Geneva 2003 to Tunis 2005). Regional forums of this kind now take place in all other parts of the world.

The ICT Week comes on the heels of a symbolic return to Bahamas, where delegates participated in the 10th CIGF from August 6 to 8.

Columbus' Cache Machine: Supporting the Caribbean Internet economy

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao - Failing to convert brilliant business ideas to real returns is costing online entrepreneurs big time. That’s why in the Caribbean, stakeholders are starting to pay closer attention to external factors impacting their bottom line.

One such factor is the underdevelopment of critical Internet infrastructure in the region. Across the Caribbean, local Internet service providers (ISPs) are paying overseas carriers to exchange local Internet traffic between their local networks. This is an unnecessarily costly and inefficient way of handling in-country exchange of Internet traffic. And naturally, that expense and inconvenience are borne by the end-user.

But there is a better way, according to Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President of Network and ICT Services for the southern Caribbean at Columbus Communications, a major player in the regional telecommunications landscape.

Speaking at the 9th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) held at the Curacao World Trade Centre on September 11, Prescod acknowledged that the region was heavily dependent on foreign infrastructure for Internet access, especially U.S. infrastructure. But he shared valuable insights on how Columbus was responding to the regional challenge.

Citing the example of Grenada, Prescod identified the island’s Internet Exchange Point (IXP) as a key component of the critical infrastructure that allowed Columbus to work with other ISPs to exchange local Internet traffic between their networks without cost. Through the IXP, Internet traffic originating in Grenada now terminates on other local networks without having to go through lengthy, expensive, international routes, he said.

In Curacao, Columbus joined that island’s IXP (AMS-IX Caribbean), and is now working to support the Exchange’s caching operations.

“There are two sides to caching,” Prescod explained. “One is the caching box, which provides the content to the users. But you also have to get that content. So we are actually engaged in Curacao to provide that foreign content for those providers, cache it, and then serve it to the users.

“So not only are we a member of the AMS-IX, but we also serve the global Internet to all of the caching boxes in Curacao today. In the interest of supporting the development of the broadband economy here in Curacao, we thought it was important we do so.”

Prescod is also one of the board members of a third Caribbean Internet Exchange recently incorporated as a non-profit company in Trinidad and Tobago. And he is hopeful that the southernmost Caribbean island will be next in line to successfully establish a fully functional Exchange.

“At this time, we’ve only gotten consensus around seven Internet Service Providers that there should be an Exchange,” he said. “We’ve sort of decided on a technical model and we’re looking over the two to six months to implement that model.”

Prescod was speaking as part of a multinational, multi-stakeholder panel discussion in the morning session of the CIGF. Alongside him were Nico Scheper (Netherlands), Craig Nesty (Dominica) and Bevil Wooding (Trinidad and Tobago). Their discussion emphasised the essential link between the performance of critical Internet infrastructure and the stimulation of the Internet economy in the region.

“Establishing a local IXP can bring many benefits to Caribbean citizens, including faster domestic Internet traffic exchange and a more resilient local network,” said Wooding in a post-event interview.

He added, “IXPs are a critical component of the local Internet economy, but they’re not the only component.”

As a whole, the Caribbean region is served by only six IXPs. Apart from Curacao, they are in the British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Grenada, St Maarten and Dominica.

Stakeholders from the Caribbean and Latin America gathered in Curacao to engage discuss and develop policies and structures for regional Internet governance. The CIGF, which was organised by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union at the request of the CARICOM Secretariat, emphasises a multi-stakeholder approach to the development of regional Internet Governance policy, drawing on the expertise and experiences of policy makers, regulators, service providers, content providers, consumer groups, academia, professionals, end users and other Internet interest groups in the region.