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Experts Call for Caribbean to Make Its Voice Heard on Global Internet Governance

Gerard Best

The internet has come to play a vital role in the social and economic development of the Caribbean. Yet, countries in the region are, in the main, relying heavily on external interests to make important decisions about the technical specifications and security of the technology and rules that impact how the Internet is governed.

"We find that the Caribbean governments are abdicating their seats at the table in global fora where major decisions are made regarding the future of the Internet. That must change, and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union is working to enable that change. This is in keeping with our mandate, as we build out the region's ICT framework, in keeping with the requirements of the CARICOM Single ICT Space," said Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).

The CTU is collaborating with the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) on a campaign to increase Caribbean participation in the global Internet governance ecosystem.

"Governments in the region and around the world are realising that the Internet is so crucial to their economy, to their citizens, to their businesses, that it has to be factored into public policy considerations," said John Curran, president and CEO of ARIN.

ARIN is one of five regional Internet registries that coordinate the development of policies for managing Internet protocol number resources. The Washington DC-based non-profit organisation manages Internet number resources in Canada, the United States and several Caribbean territories.

"We are entering a new era. The dam has broken and governments are now saying, 'We're not going to let the Internet evolve on its own. We're going to get involved and try to guide it to a productive end that meets our public policy goals.' Civil society is saying, 'We're at the table and we want to protect people and people's economic interests and social issues.' So you're finally beginning to have dialogues that are more than just technical people working on technical solutions," he added.

"There are very real challenges to be overcome. Human and financial constraints are cited most frequently. However, perhaps the greatest obstacle is actually ignorance of what is at stake, why it matters and how it relates to the challenges and opportunities for the Caribbean in the digital age," said Bevil Wooding, Caribbean Outreach Liaison at ARIN.

"Creating the necessary level of awareness at multiple levels of Caribbean leadership and Caribbean society takes a concerted and coordinated effort. No one organisation can address the complex issues of Caribbean development on its own. Likewise, no external organisation or body should be forced to divine what is in the best interest of Caribbean. Informed Caribbean voices need to be present and heard at fora where decisions about the policies that define the trajectory of the Internet are being made," he added.

Thankfully, the landscape is beginning to show positive signs of change. A new Internet Public Policy Forum is a collaborative initiative launched in 2018 by the CTU and ARIN. The forum is designed to raise awareness of trends in the international Internet governance and public policy scene, and foster structured deliberations on the implications for the Caribbean.

As the Internet continues its evolution from a set of interconnected research networks to a commercial network providing global access, a multi-stakeholder approach to its proper management and governance becomes critical. The Caribbean now has an opportunity to amplify its voice concerning the development of policies that impact the global Internet.

"Critical mass does not come overnight. The Caribbean needs to make its development priorities, its threats, and its aspirations heard at the various international fora where policies and rules are set. Only if the Caribbean voice is heard can we ensure that Internet development proceeds in a way that benefits the region," said Anne-Rachel Inné, Executive Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy at ARIN.

Lewis, Curran, Wooding and Inné were feature speakers at a special meeting of the CTU ARIN public policy group in Barbados on April 11. In the meeting, over 45 public sector and civil society representatives held talks on practical ways to develop a more coordinated approach to the formation of Caribbean-tailored policy that better supports Internet development at the national and regional levels.

The high-level event, held under the theme "Caribbean priorities for the global Internet," attracted Internet policymakers, computer networking and cybersecurity experts and law enforcement officials from across the Caribbean, North America and Europe.

By Gerard Best, Development Journalist
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