Advancing Caribbean Internet Governance

Mobilizing Stakeholders, Amplifying the Region’s Voice on the Global Stage

By Bevil M. Wooding

Internet related technologies play an increasingly significant role in the development of Caribbean economies and society. From online education, e-commerce and e-government to online social networks, government cyber-snooping, WikiLeaks and cybercrime, the Internet is impacting every facet of modern life. Yet, there is limited Caribbean participation in international fora shaping Internet Governance.

The good news is this is changing. More individuals and organizations are getting involved and playing a role in the evolution of the Internet here at home and even across the globe.

Internet Governance

One organization playing a significant role in advancing the Caribbean’s Internet governance agenda is the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). The CTU is an intergovernmental organisation with a mandate to facilitate the development of the information and communications (ICT) sector in the Caribbean.

In 2005, through the combined efforts of the CTU and the CARICOM Secretariat, the Caribbean was first in the world to hold a regional Internet Governance Forum. That meeting, held in Guyana, marked the first coordinated effort by the Caribbean to develop regional, multi-stakeholder frameworks to deal with the growing influence of the Internet on Caribbean economies and society.

The organization’s efforts over the past several years to increase public and government awareness of the Internet governance issues that impact the region have been consistent and fruitful. In addition to support from governments and Internet advocates from across the region, the CTU has also managed to secure support from major international bodies including, the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and the Latin American and Caribbean Network Information Centre (LACNIC).

Multi-stakeholder Matters

Internet governance is a unique bottom-up, multistakeholder process. It brings participants from various stakeholder groups to discuss Internet policy issues such as understanding how to take advantage of Internet opportunities, identifying emerging trends and addressing threats and challenges that are part of the Internet landscape. This multi-stakeholder model, where participation is open to all on equal footing, whether governments, civil society, academia, business or the technical community, has been quite significant to the phenomenal success of the global Internet. In the region, the multi-stakeholder model is equally vital for the effective sharing of ideas and perspectives around the far-reaching use and development of the Internet.

Internet governance fora welcome and include anyone with an interest in how the Internet is managed, or how it is accessed and used by individuals and other entities.

A Caribbean Forum

In a week’s time, on 11th September in Curacao, the CTU will be hosting the 9th installment of the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum. The gathering attracts an international audience to debate the state of Internet Governance regionally and globally. The meeting also serves as an important regional gauge of the progress being made in addressing the role of the Internet on Caribbean development.

Individuals, organizations and groups responsible for development activity associated with the Internet, can contribute to an environment that facilitates this development of national and regional public policy principles and guidelines and common practice. Participation in the CIGF is open to all interested participants at no cost (see http://www.ctu.int).

Caribbean Perspective, Global Voice

CIGF is not a perfect forum, no interaction involving such a diverse set of human interests can be. It is, however, a vitally important forum for the Caribbean to engage in the regional and global debate on Internet governance. The Internet plays too important a role in the development of our countries and our region to leave to chance. Nor can it be left to a single organization or entity. It must be a collective effort.

Evolving the Caribbean Internet Governance agenda must involve the definition and adoption of a common agenda (vision) and real investment in facilitating its implementation. A prerequisite for this is increased awareness, at every level, of the core issues and the implications of complacency or inaction.

It will also require a level of strategic coordination, which to this point has proved elusive. Of course, coordination, requires collaboration; and collaboration requires willingness to act; and action requires enlightened leadership.

Inaction is simply not an option. Thankfully a new generation of leaders is beginning to grasp a powerful truth: The Caribbean offers a perspective that is no less relevant than larger, better resourced countries or regions. We have a contribution to make that is no less valuable than other global stakeholders. We have priorities that are no less important, because they impact real lives.

Caribbean development is going to be increasingly tied to technology generally and the Internet specifically. The decisions made about investment in Internet infrastructure, Internet-based applications and services, and Internet-related policies will impact our economies, global competitiveness and quality of life. The development and success of the Caribbean Internet Governance agenda matters, and it requires full Caribbean participation. Furthermore, it feeds directly into the global Internet Governance debate. In that debate, the global Internet needs to hear Caribbean voices.

This article originally appeared on September 5 in the Trinidad and Tobago Business Guardian as a Technology Matters column. Bevil Wooding is the Chief Knowledge Office of Congress WBN (www.congresswbn.org), a values-based international non-profit. He is also Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-technology non-profit (www.brightpathfoundation.org). Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at technologymatters@brightpathfoundation.org.

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