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Can Tobago really become an ICT leader?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tobagonians are making the web their domain. Everywhere you go on the island, there’s someone on a mobile device, catching up on news and current events, browsing or communicating on social media, or seeking to be innovative in bringing our small island community together, with initiatives like the Meeting Place. Entrepreneurs are finding new ways to reach customers; even the media is reaching wider audiences instantly by going live on Facebook to provide coverage of press conferences, political meetings, traffic accidents etc.

The vastly expanding ICT (Information and Communications Technology) capabilities out there-computer, telecommunications and other associated technology-and the varied possibilities of application for each new technology that emerges are spurring global economic growth, either directly or through their influence on traditional and emerging economic sectors. And they also provide opportunities for various sectors locally, especially in a season where foreign direct investment is critical.

Infrastructure continues to improve. The national pool of service providers has expanded; faster internet speeds, greater choice and a wider appeal of technology will naturally ensure that service becomes more reliable.

Last year, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) committed to improving the service in Tobago. TATT promised better coverage by ensuring, according to Chief Secretary Orville London, “a minimum level of coverage if providers are going to guarantee that their license will be preserved….” The plan is also to introduce Wi-Fi hotspots across Tobago, which will naturally boost connectivity. The Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park (CEIBP) is also equipped to become a hub for service providers in Tobago, which will allow closer access, as well as reduce cost associated with services such as web hosting, which are sourced externally.

Technical know-how is also critical in harnessing the potential of ICT. This starts with computer literacy, which is being stepped up in Tobago. And it’s not only for the young; over 400 senior citizens to date have benefitted from computer literacy classes, learning computer fundamentals; how to use the internet and email; and even social media.

Computer literacy is also taking place across communities, and allowing internet access to those who would otherwise have none. And the island is looking forward to its 18th IT Centre. Today, there are local based Tobagonians operating GIS Mapping technology, repairing computers and mobile devices, and offering a wide range of media and graphic services.

Other areas are being explored; in 2016 the Eco-Industrial Development Company of Tobago (E-IDCOT), in partnership with facilitators Animae Caribe and YTEPP, introduced hundreds of Tobagonians computer animation. The end game, given enough interest, is to provide advanced training that will allow residents to enter an industry that opens avenues to jobs like video game design, movie and 3-D animation, film editing and a host of other possibilities. The cynic may question whether this could really happen in Tobago, but the true question that should be asked is “Why not?”

The real challenge is thinking big, and coming up with actionable innovation that will pay dividends even in a challenging economic environment. Given Tobago’s penchant for entrepreneurship and ingenuity, this opens up prospects for global freelance work in areas like software and application development, and social media and graphics services.

With ICT, the world is at our fingertips. This means the opportunity is there to support diversification of the island’s, and by extension, the national economy by boosting existing industries-tourism, agriculture and agro-processing, the creative sectors, media, and especially entrepreneurship, which straddles every other sector.

Countries and regions such as Singapore, India, and Latin America have benefitted immensely by a long-term investment in ICT. Singapore launched six national ICT master plans over the last three decades plus, making use of its geographical position and technology to become one of the world’s most advanced nations, and continues to seek ICT professionals externally to meet its demand. India is also in demand, and outsources numerous I.T.-related services to countries around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago. And Latin America has a burgeoning telecommunications sector. The CAF Development Bank described ICT as “a major source of wealth” in the region, representing more than four percent GDP, which has bolstered the region’s economic growth.

The combination of training and expanding infrastructure presents a welcome opportunity for this island to stand out in this region as a technological force. Tobagonians are encouraged to step up and stake their claims.