Towards Regionalization of New Communication Services in the CARICOM: A Technological Free-For-All

Aggrey Brown (CARIMAC, University of the West Indies)

Abstract: The regionalization of new telecommunications and media services in the Caribbean has to be seen in the context of the history of a region which remains fragmented along the lines of antecedent colonial connections. While the inevitability of pan-Caribbean co-operation, if not integration, has to be acknowledged, the regionalization of new information/communication (infocom) services in the Caribbean proceeds along the traditional geopolitical lines. This paper focuses on the English-speaking Caribbean, which comprises the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The specific issues that are pertinent to the notion of regionalization of services are geopolitical, economic, and technological. More precisely, the region's proximity to North America, the emergence of a competitive global economy, and the role of infocom technologies in the global economy, both as a sector of that economy and as the cohesive element within it, are our main concerns.

Résumé: Afin de bien comprendre pourquoi les nouveaux services de radiodiffusion et de télécommunication aux Caraïbes tendent à être régionaux, il faut se rappeler que les pays caraïbes demeurent divisés les uns des autres en conséquence de la diversité de leurs origines coloniales. Bien qu'il faille reconnaître que la coopération pan-caraïbe est inévita-ble, la régionalisation de nouveaux services d'information et de communication dans les Caraïbes se conforme aux alliances géopolitiques traditionnelles. Cet article se concentre sur les Caraïbes anglophones, composantes du "Caribbean Community" (CARICOM)--la "Communauté caraïbe". Les questions se rapportant spécifiquement à cette idée de régionalisation de services sont d'ordre géopolitique, économique, et technologique. Plus précisément, nos questions principales sont: l'effet de la proximité de l'Amérique du Nord sur les Caraïbes, l'émergence d'un marché concurrentiel global, et l'importance de technologies d'information et de communication dans l'économie globale, autant comme soutiens de celle-ci que comme produits marchandables.

The imperatives of regional integration

The establishment in 1990 of a West Indian Commission by the 13 heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with a mandate to advise on a regional evolutionary path for the twenty-first century, placed the issue of regional integration on the front burner for the people of the English-speaking Caribbean.

Many factors contribute to the consciousness of the need for integration among the region's people, perhaps the most salient being the fragility of small, fragmented economies in a global environment characterized by emerging trading and economic blocs. For the small countries of the Caribbean it has become almost a cliché that the most viable strategy for survival in the short, medium, and long runs is to be found collectively rather than separately. Another factor contributing to the realization of the importance of regional integration in the CARICOM today is the increasing awareness of a common heritage among citizens, fostered in part by the broadcast media, both radio and television, as well as newer infocom technologies.

However, the proliferation and domestic consumption of the electronic media have had contradictory influences on regional awareness. At one level, the preponderance of electronically transmitted material from outside the region--what some have called "cultural penetration"--has given rise to widespread concern for the preservation of the region's cultural heritage. Simultaneously, the activities of such regional organizations as the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), and independent video production agencies have had the opposite effect of exposing the region's people increasingly to each other through shared news, information, and entertainment programming. In other words, the broadcast media have had paradoxical impacts on the region and its people. On balance, however, most news, information, and entertainment flows in the region originate from external sources, in particular the U.S. (Brown, 1987).

Consequently, there is consensus in the region on the central role that media have to play in fostering regional awareness. But the mass media have been radically altered by their convergence with the computer and telecommunications, as well as by the advent of newer microelectronically based infocom technologies which are transforming social, cultural, and economic relations among and between peoples on a global scale.

New media, new imperatives

The CARICOM has been experiencing the effects of some of these technologies longer than most other regions of the world--a consequence of geography as well as of a shared language with North America and particularly the U.S. For example, the "fax" machine is as common today in most business establishments, including the larger media houses, as is the word processor. No doubt it will become, in due course, a popular consumer product. And its effects on information flows are already discernible: some postal and messenger services have become redundant in the world of commerce, for example.

Since the mid-1970s, signal overspill from U.S. domestic satellite transmissions has made Television Receive Only Antennae (TVROs)--the "dish"--ubiquitous throughout the region but especially in the Northern Caribbean. And cable distribution technologies expose many citizens in virtually every country to a wide variety--145 channels--of mostly entertainment television programs from the same source. The dish is also a reservoir of audio materials including one radio station--ZGM, FM--which has a transmitter based in Montserrat specifically to serve Eastern Caribbean countries but whose programming originates from the U.S. mainland.

In spite of the global reach of these technologies, not all citizens of the CARlCOM have access to them or for that matter even to some of the "old" technologies. The distribution of television is still largely an urban phenomenon in some of the larger territories (Guyana, Jamaica, Belize), and cable does not reach all the citizens of the territories in which it is present. The telephone--the basic communication technology on which the newer convergent infocom technologies build and rely--remains a relatively inaccessible technology in most CARICOM countries (see Table 1).

Radio remains the most potent and widespread mass medium in the CARICOM and is the medium through which the majority of citizens (many illiterate) receive public information.

In short, in spite of increasing use of state-of-the-art infocom technologies in many CARICOM countries, there still is uneven distribution of these technologies throughout the region, and participation in mainstream media activities remains skewed. In almost all territories, differential access to and participation in mainstream media have led to the emergence of alternative forms of communication to meet citizens' needs (Brown & Sanatan, 1987).

More recently, general acceptance at official levels of the need for economic restructuring (structural adjustment) via privatization, divestment of government-owned entities, and economic liberalization has led to the opening up of the media landscape in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and, to a lesser extent, in Barbados, Belize, and St. Lucia as well.

Table 1 Telephone Penetration Rates in CARICOM, 1993
Country Lines/100 of population
Antigua 15.5
Barbados 30.6
Bahamas 25.5
Belize 13.3
Dominica 9.9
Guyana 4.0
Grenada 15.1
Jamaica 3.7
Montserrat 25.9
St. Kitts 15.7
St. Lucia 8.3
St. Vincent 9.1
Trinidad and Tobago 17.5
CARICOM average 14.9
U.S.A. average (1982) 78.4
AT&T, 1993.
Source:
Dunn, 1994.

One consequence of structural adjustment has been the break-up of government monopolies in both radio and television broadcasting in a number of instances. This has had some surprising consequences. In the new liberalized environment, the privately owned and operated Helen TV in St. Lucia, for example, has pioneered the routine use of a geostationary satellite for the transmission of domestically produced material. The first live regional transmission of a regional event occurred in 1989 when the University of the West Indies--UWI--at Mona, with assistance from the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, televised a convocation utilizing an INTELSAT satellite in combination with a U.S. domestic satellite, WESTM 5. The 1992 World Cup cricket competition, played in Australia, was also transmitted to the entire region on a similar basis.

Globalization, information, and the infocom industry

While geographic and cultural factors, as well as regional consumption patterns, are major contributors to the preponderance of U.S. satellite-transmitted audiovisual materials within the Caribbean, an even more salient factor influencing the regionalization of services has been the globalization of the infocom industry.

Infocom technologies themselves have contributed to the phenomenon of globalization by making it possible for information to be moved at the speed of light from any point on earth to any other. Furthermore, the digitalization of information means that regardless of the content and form that information takes--whether images, data, audio, or text--it can be reduced to, transmitted, and received in digital mode. Today, as a commodity, information has an instant global market.

That entertainment comprises a large segment of the infocom industry within the Caribbean and globally is not surprising. Even prior to the technological breakthroughs of the 1970s and subsequently, Hollywood has been the dominant force in the global entertainment industry. By spawning the production and distribution of new product (videotapes, CDs, laser discs, etc.), the new technologies have increased the Hollywood influence.

The rise of vertically and horizontally integrated global entertainment conglomerates has been a characteristic of the still-evolving global marketplace (Brown, 1990). The $13 billion merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications in l989 (a sum exceeding the combined GNP of CARICOM) and the takeover of CBS Records and Columbia Pictures by the Sony Corporation are only two of the better-known combines in the business.

The Economist reported that, in l988, the entertainment industry was, after aerospace, the second largest foreign earner of the U.S. economy, generating some $5.5 billion. It is estimated that the hardware segment of the global entertainment industry as a whole will be worth well over three million U.S. dollars within the first decade of the twenty-first century ( just over five years from now).

So significant is the infocom industry in the global economy that the Council of Europe has pinned European competitiveness in the entertainment sector of that industry on the development of a high-definition television (HDTV) standard (1250 lines) that it hopes will be adopted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) "...as the single world production standard for the origination and exchange of HDTV program material" (Council decision of April 27, 1989, on high-definition television, quoted in Slaa, 1991). But the Council has left nothing to chance and also espouses a policy "To promote the widest use of the European HDTV system throughout the world" (Slaa, 1991).

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is an important indication of the significance of the services sector in the contemporary world economy and in the economy of the twenty-first century. "From semi-conductors to super computers, jumbo jets to HDTV, technology is probably the single most important factor driving the evolution of global competition. The accelerating pace of technological innovation is spawning new businesses, transforming old ones and re-defining the rules of competitive success" (Branscomb, 1992). The motive force of the technologically driven global economy is the infocom industry. But technological convergence has blurred the traditional instrumental distinction between information and communication; content and structures; the media and the content of media; hardware and software. And all this has created a dynamic policy environment for decision-makers the world over.

Some policy implications of globalization

The imperatives of regional integration within CARICOM, and CARICOM's potential competitiveness within the global marketplace, would suggest that the vital infocom sector plays multiple roles. However, it is self-evident that the sector cannot successfully meet regional expectations unless and until clear regional policies are articulated and implemented collectively to realize those expectations. The most crucial policy area is ownership and control of critical aspects of the infocom sector, including the broadcast media but also, most importantly, internal and external telecommunications.

Media ownership and control

At present, media ownership in the region can be divided into the following categories:

  1. Government-owned and controlled media (radio in all cases and TV in some; newspaper in one case).
  2. Privately owned media (radio, cable TV relay services, newspapers, and, recently, new private broadcast and cable licenses).
  3. Mixed ownership (i.e., government- and privately owned, as, for example, the Caribbean News Agency, CANA).
  4. Co-operatively owned media (a form of ownership pioneered in Jamaica with the RJR model).
  5. Community-owned media (in particular, the weekly tabloids of the middle-developed countries, MDCs).
  6. Regionally owned media (as, for example, CANA or the University of the West Indies Distance Teaching Enterprise, UWIDITE).

These forms of ownership evolved over time with changing political arrangements and ideological orientations. Regulation of the broadcast media--radio and television--has been and continues to be the prerogative of governments, which reserve the right to license broadcasters in keeping with ITU requirements for the regulation and use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Television broadcasting was introduced in the MDCs in the early 1960s under government aegis as statutory corporations. And for almost three decades, the governments of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, and the Bahamas maintained monopoly privileges in the medium. The advent of the new distribution technologies of satellite and cable led, however, to the de facto breaking of governments' television monopoly.

In the absence of government regulatory policies, with the sole exception of Barbados, imaginative entrepreneurship in the majority of territories saw the emergence of cable television in the 1980s. Only after the fact did some of the governments concerned legitimize these extra-legal services. However, in virtually every instance, all televised materials on the region's cable services, including commercials, originate from the U.S., giving rise to widespread concern for this self-inflicted form of "cultural penetration."

In addition to cable, Jamaica has the highest concentration of satellite dishes in the region. Latest estimates place the number of such receivers in Jamaica at almost 40,000 (Jamaica Media Survey, 1994).

With the adoption throughout the region of a market-driven, free-enterprise economic regime, and in the face of the proliferation of cable and satellite distribution technologies, a number of governments have granted additional licenses for the operation of both radio and television services. The government of Jamaica divested three regional government-owned radio stations to the private sector; granted an additional national radio and television license to private operators; granted a national radio broadcasting license to Jamaican religious institutions; and granted the UWI, Mona campus, both a low-power TV license as well as an FM radio license. It is in the process of defining regulations for the estimated 100 cable services that exist extra-legally in the island. In a more expansive act, the government of Trinidad and Tobago issued six new broadcast TV licenses, as well as five cable TV and eight new radio station licenses.

Even where such radical departures from past practice have not been the case, citizens still have access to a range of radio stations, given the proximity of the islands in the Eastern Caribbean to each other. Nevertheless, liberalization of the mass-media environment at the national level in CARICOM countries has been more technologically and, to a lesser extent, ideologically driven than it has been deliberately policy driven.

At the regional level, media institutions have emerged out of a recognition on the part of professionals of the logic of co-operation to achieve common objectives. Two important regional media institutions providing pan-Caribbean services are the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA). The University of the West Indies Distance Teaching Enterprise is also a significant regional service provider in the CARICOM.

Regional media institutions and services

The CBU

The CBU was established in l970 and today draws its membership from all CARICOM countries as well as Surinam and the Dutch Antilles. It also has associated members, including the Caribbean Institute of Mass Communications (CARIMAC), the BBC, Voice of America (VOA), and CNN. Although private broadcasters are eligible for membership in the CBU, the majority of its members are still government-owned entities. However, with the expansion of privately owned media outlets in the region, the composition and balance of CBU membership is gradually changing from public to private.

The CBU's raison d'être is to facilitate co-operation between member systems in a number of areas related to broadcasting, including technical, content, personnel, and training. By pooling resources, member stations are also able to gain access to external program materials more economically.

The fact that the majority of member systems of the CBU traditionally have been government-owned stations has had its drawbacks, especially on the organization's ability to implement collective decisions expeditiously. The heterogeneous composition of membership has also had its effects in that some of the smaller systems find it difficult to meet their financial obligations. One result of this has been CBU reliance on external funding sources for assistance. And its greatest success to date has been the television news exchange program--Caribvision--launched in 1989 with assistance from the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). The CBU also produces a weekly television magazine program, Caribscope, as well as a small number of entertainment-type programs for regional and extra-regional distribution. The Union sponsors, as well, an annual song contest in its efforts to promote and develop regional cultural expression.

In June 1994 the CBU officially inaugurated a daily satellite-video feed from its headquarters in Barbados to its member systems and subscribers in the region and beyond. It is the first regional media organization to utilize, on a routine basis, satellite distribution technology to move materials hemispherically and with the potential to do so globally.

The Caribbean News Agency (CANA)

CANA is internationally recognized as one of the most successful regional news agencies. Founded in 1976, it is the progeny of regional governments in co-operation with the Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association (CPBA), UNESCO, and the Reuter News Agency.

Historically, the latter agency had been responsible for the dissemination of news in the region--a legacy of the CARICOM colonial connection. With the coming of political independence, regional governments and some independent media became dissatisfied with regional reliance on the service of the Reuter News Agency to provide news and information to the region about itself. As an international agency, Reuter had no particular commitment to the development of greater regional awareness among the people of the region. Fulfillment of this need could therefore not be left to the British news agency (though under formal agreement CANA remains the sole agent for the Reuter News Agency in the Caribbean). A novel shareholding scheme for the regional agency was therefore put in place: one which prevented governments from owning shares directly but which allowed publicly owned media to do so. Majority equity in the agency is held by privately owned media members and minority holdings by publicly owned media.

Like the CBU, the CANA is not a self-sufficient agency, and throughout its existence it has had significant financial assistance from UNESCO and the (West) German government. It has, however, been able to maintain its independence and credibility and is firmly established within the region as the premier supplier of regional news (Brown, 1986). CANA's operations have been fully computerized for almost a decade with its senior correspondents being able to input news stories directly into the Agency's wire feed via modem, from anywhere in the world.

The prominence of the Agency within CARICOM is due in large measure to its radio service. Canaradio, which started operations in 1984, originates a daily 15-minute news program--The Caribbean Today--which is carried in the majority of CARICOM countries. Telecommunications difficulties still prevent it being carried in Belize on a daily basis. The program is carried live by some stations but is recorded and re-broadcast by others. Canaradio also produces and distributes a variety of other news and public affairs programs which are carried by subscribers both inside and outside the region. A once-monthly live discussion program on a topical matter--Crossfire--is also a popular Canaradio production. Indeed, given the widespread use and popularity of radio in the region, Canaradio, with its own transmitter, could well become the nucleus of a bona fide regional radio station (Brown, 1986).

Headquartered in Barbados, the CANA and its wire service, which relies primarily on stringers, generates a regional output of more than 15,000 words per day with an additional 50,000 originating from Reuter. Recently, the Agency has also initiated the production of a monthly special-interest magazine for the business sector called Cana Business--a venture that seeks to fill a niche for this type of information in the region and beyond. It has also been examining the feasibility of providing an on-line service for private (non-media) subscribers.

UWIDITE

With the almost laissez faire proliferation of infocom technologies throughout the region, official response has been characterized by fragmented decision making. A contributing factor to this is that at the governmental level, the separation of portfolio responsibilities for content of the communication process (information) from delivery systems (telecommunications) remains intact, even as technological convergence makes such separation counter-productive at best. Nowhere is this lack of portfolio coherence more evident in its effects than on the University of the West Indies Distance Teaching Enterprise (UWIDITE).

Through its UWIDITE, the University is both an innovator and major user of telecommunications in the region. The UWIDITE audio teleconferencing system, which links all CARICOM countries with the exception of Guyana, is the only such system in the region, having come into existence in 1983. Each of the 18 UWIDITE centres is equipped with the basic audio technologies as well as a slow-scan television system and telewriter for on-line use. Audio-tape, VCRs, and monitors are also included and used off-line.

The system is an important element in the University's effort to make its services available to the widest number of CARICOM citizens, in keeping with the mandate given the institution by the regional heads of government. However, ever since its inception, the lack of co-ordinated regional communication policies has left the UWI to rely on the good offices of regional telecommunications entities to provide UWIDITE concessionary rates for the multiple leased lines required for telecommunications. In light of the privatization of external carriers, and the near monopoly of Cable and Wireless Limited as a result, this oversight will be difficult if not impossible to correct through regulatory mechanisms.

Telecommunications carriers

The region's telecommunications sector is dominated by an oligopoly comprising the British-based Cable and Wireless (C&W), ATN (Atlantic Tele-Network Inc.), and GTE with the largest of the three transnationals, C&W, having a monopoly in internal and external telecommunications in nine Caribbean countries (see Table 2).

This state of affairs evolved out of the larger countries' acceptance of, if not agreement with, the new orthodoxy of economic restructuring mandated by both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its affiliate institution, the World Bank. In that dispensation, the ostensible "engine of growth" in contemporary economies is the private sector. Government involvement in key sectors of national economies is eschewed in favour of privatization, economic liberalization, and deregulation.

The monopoly enjoyed by the telecom transnational corporations at the national level has, in virtually every instance, resulted in state-of-the-art upgrading of facilities throughout the region with most countries having fully digital services. "There is no doubt that the English-speaking Caribbean has access to some of the most advanced technologies available to modern telecommunications.... On-line hotel reservation systems, boat phones, mobile and cellular networks and a new generation of digital exchanges are among the services already in place" (Dunn, 1994).

The region is connected via fibre optic undersea cable to a globe-spanning network reaching from Florida on the U.S. East Coast to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, via Jamaica, to Colombia in South America. The trans-Atlantic connection to this network is in Bermuda. In the first quarter of 1994 an Eastern Caribbean Fibre (Optic) System (EFCS) was commissioned into service. It interconnects with the transatlantic system. Thus the region is fully served by redundant distribution systems comprising microwave, fibre optics, and satellites.

Table 2 Cable and Wireless Ownership of Caribbean Telecommunications Organizations
Percentage of C&W ownership in
Country local telcos overseas carrier (%)
Anguilla 100 100
Antigua 0 100
Barbados 85 85
Bermuda 100 100
British Virgin Islands 100 100
Cayman Islands 100 100
Dominica 100 100
Grenada 70 70
Jamaica 79 79
Montserrat 100 100
St. Kitts 80 80
St. Lucia 100 100
St. Vincent 100 100
Trinidad and Tobago 49 49
Turks Islands 100 100
Single merged company.
Source:
Dunn, 1994.

High-speed data transmission services via packet-switching technology have been available in Montego Bay, Jamaica since the early 1980s and since the late 1980s also in St. Lucia. In both instances, the facilities were put in place to service "offshore U.S." data entry and processing needs with the "digiports," as they are called, de-linked from the national telecommunications network. Information processing and telemarketing are also services provided by these entities. To the extent that it had a presence in the region since colonial times, C&W had an advantage over other companies as the preferred regional common carrier. While there have been obvious benefits from the virtual C&W monopoly, there have also been some disadvantages including high service costs and an unwillingness by the company to be responsive to public concerns.

So, for example, when Telecommunications of Jamaica (TOJ--the C&W entity) discovered that some persons in a small section of Jamaica were able, through technological means, to make and receive overseas collect calls without having to pay for the calls, the company arbitrarily banned all incoming collect calls to its 290,000 customers island-wide. Some months subsequently it re-introduced collect calls after having put in place an appropriate anti-fraud system. Most Jamaican subscribers were of the opinion that TOJ would not have acted in that manner had consumers had alternatives.

That belief is correct to the extent that TOJ has had some difficulty dealing with a U.S.-based company called International Discount Telecommunications (IDT) that has offered a competitive computer-assisted call-back, long-distance service to telephone subscribers in the Caribbean. TOJ/C&W bills customers by the minute for overseas calls. So, for example, a call that actually lasts two minutes and ten seconds is billed as a three-minute call. IDT, on the other hand, offers a service that bills its customers for every six seconds used. The same two-minute, ten-second call would be billed as two minutes and twelve seconds. Increasingly, more Jamaicans are subscribing to the IDT service, thereby causing some consternation for TOJ.

In short, an infocom regulatory and policy void within the region has resulted in the emergence of a telecommunications oligopoly dominated by C&W. But that void also presents opportunities for externally based competitors who, by virtue of access to cutting-edge technologies, are able to offer regional consumers attractive alternative services.

The need for regulating the infocom sector

In l984, a regional workshop brought together the top telecommunications administrators and technical personnel in the region to discuss pertinent issues related to regional telecommunications. The following were the recommendations coming out of that meeting:

  1. that wherever possible, maximum use be made of available technical competence in the region. To this end CARICOM countries should co-ordinate their approach prior to the WARC's meeting of the ITU in order to:
    (a)
    secure the retention in the final acts of the Satellite Broadcasting Conference (WARC '83) of the provision of a common orbital position for the "Caribbean Beam," and of individual national orbital positions together with the corresponding channel arrangements;
    (b)
    reinforce the benefits of attendance at the satellite Broadcasting Conference by all the member countries from the CARICOM area, through co-ordination of action of such delegations, in participating as widely as possible in the work of the Conference through its many sub-committees.
  2. that a greater degree of co-ordination across sectors and between CARICOM member countries be sought in order to maximize the benefits of successful policy decisions;
  3. that the regulatory instruments governing telecommunications in the region be rationalized;
  4. that research projects be undertaken by the UWI, CARIRI, and other regional telecommunications agencies in the following areas:
    (a)
    broad-based assessment of appropriate computer hardware and software technologies for the region;
    (b)
    an examination of the nature of policymaking with a view to accessing new and changing technologies; and
    (c)
    assessment of the impact of the new communication technologies on traditional communication services in the Caribbean.

Five years later in 1989, recommendation 3 became a reality with the setting up of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) by regional governments. The CTU is an agency of the CARICOM Secretariat and is headquartered in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Headed by a Secretary General, the CTU's mandate essentially comprises all the outstanding and still pertinent recommendations that came out of the meeting in 1984. Since its establishment it has played an important advisory role to governments, especially in areas related to the international regulation of the infocom sector and other ITU matters. It also advises on policy, but that arena is essentially a domestic as opposed to a regional one.

Belatedly, the Standing Committee of Ministers with responsibility for Information in CARICOM established a Task Force to develop a regional information policy. The Task Force completed its work in 1992, but its recommendations are yet to be promulgated by governments. In any event, the entrenched dominance of Cable and Wireless throughout the region leaves little room for influencing through policy ex post facto the regionalization of services, save through technological breakthroughs that transcend the legal remit of that transnational corporation.

The long-range possibilities for influencing regionalization of new infocom services through such technological breakthroughs are not at all far-fetched, given the example of lDT, the dynamic nature of the global infocom sector, the geopolitics of the Caribbean region, and the centrality of the infocom sector to life in contemporary society.

Conclusions

The policy vacuum within which infocom technologies are being introduced in the Caribbean is exacerbated by the rapidity of the technological changes taking place within the global industry. Even in the economically better endowed societies of the world, the task of policymaking is hazardous at best in light of this technological fluidity. In the less-well-endowed sector of the world, of which the Caribbean is a part, the stakes are extremely high.

Regional governments face the dilemma of having to make choices that may ultimately be inappropriate as a result of technological obsolescence or failing that to leave development of the sector to the private sector and uncontrollable market forces. In spite of their intellectual commitment to the idea of regional integration, individually and collectively, the majority of CARICOM governments have chosen the latter course of action. One result of this course of (in)action has been the emergence of a near monopoly in the region of the telecommunications sector by a single TNC. And inherent within this situation is the fact that decisions taken by that entity are informed entirely by its global interests and how those interests can be served by its presence within the region.

It is therefore not surprising that there is skewed distribution of POTS within the region side by side with the most sophisticated digital services. A direct consequence of this paradox is that there is a growing cleavage between the information rich and the information poor within and between countries in CARICOM. Metaphorically, the new information superhighway bypasses the majority of citizens who remain pedestrians.

Paradoxically therefore, while the new infocom technologies are contributing to the process of regional integration, they are doing so on the basis of creating social anomalies between an information-rich elite and an information-starved mass. And the social consequences of this technological free-for-all will be felt for years to come within the region.

Notes

1
Its crucial role in disaster preparedness and management, for example, has been amply demonstrated in recent years with the advent of hurricanes Gilbert and Hugo.
2
Lack of downlinking facilities prevented a number of CARICOM countries from receiving the televised event through the internationally owned Intelsat system, thus necessitating use of a U.S. domsat as well. This increased the cost to the originators of the program of transmitting an important regional event to the people of the region. Ironically, no such increased costs would have been incurred had the event been the U.S. World Series baseball playoffs, since all CARICOM countries have direct access to U.S. domestic satellite transmissions.

References

AT&T. (1993). The world's telephones. In CANTO (Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication Organizations), Conference proceedings. Barbados: CANTO.

Branscomb, Lewis M. (1992, March-April). Does America need a technology policy? Harvard Business Review, 70(2), 24-33.

Brown, Aggrey. (1986). CANA in transition: An impact evaluation. Kingston: UNESCO.

Brown, Aggrey. (1987). TV programming trends in the Anglophone Caribbean: The 1980s (CARIMAC Occasional Paper No. 2). Kingston: University of the West Indies.

Brown, Aggrey. (1990). Caribbean cultures and mass communication technology in the 21st century. Caribbean Affairs, 3(4), 48-64.

Brown, Aggrey, & Sanatan, Roderick. (1987). Talking with whom? Mona, Jamaica: Caribbean Institute of Mass Communication, University of the West Indies.

Dunn, Hopeton. (1994, April-May). A call for competition, a call for regulation. InterMedia, 22(2), 23-26.

Jamaica Media Survey. (1994). Kingston: Market Research Services.

Slaa, Paul. (1991). HDTV as a spearhead of European industrial policy. Telematics and Infomatics, 8(3), 143-154.



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