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Caribbean Infrastructure Investment Must Keep Pace With Global Digital Trends

Caribbean islands are known for white-sand getaways, but one of the region’s best-kept secrets remains buried under its picturesque beaches.

That hidden treasure is the Caribbean’s complex network of subsea Internet cables, worth their weight in gold because they connect these small-island nations to each other and to the global Internet. With that Internet connectivity comes the hope of a better life for millions of Caribbean citizens, and regional ambitions of global competitiveness.

But the actual work of converting those Caribbean dreams into very real economic opportunity sometimes falls to unheralded technology experts, many investing years of selfless effort into the region-wide buildout of resilient digital infrastructure. Among them is Bevil Wooding, Director of Caribbean Affairs at the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).

“Digital infrastructure is a critical component of economic development because it supports communication, innovation, productivity, market access, and remote work, all of which are essential for businesses to compete and succeed in today’s global economy,” Wooding said.

“Trying to boost Caribbean competitiveness in the global digital economy without first strengthening the region’s underlying digital infrastructure would be like trying to build a house without first establishing the foundation.”

Wooding is the co-founder of the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), a volunteer community of Caribbean ICT professionals who leverage the global technical community to solve technical problems related to the critical internet infrastructure, including Internet exchange points.

An internet exchange point, or IXP, is a piece of physical infrastructure that allows network operators to interconnect and exchange traffic locally without having to resort to expensive international routes, which can be slower and more expensive. There are hundreds of IXPs in the world, with more than a dozen already in the Caribbean, including Belize, Curacao, Grenada, Haiti, Saint Barthélemy, Sint Maarten, and Trinidad and Tobago. Through IXP development, CaribNOG has helped improve the quality and speed of internet connectivity in the Caribbean.

An ongoing IXP development project, called CaribIX, has yielded results in the French territories of Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy. Launched in March 2022, the project is funded by the INTERREG Caraïbes programme and co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union, with CaribNOG providing technical support at the regional level and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union providing overall coordination.

In April, CaribNOG conducted strategic consultations in all three territories, to provide technical guidance on setting up and growing the new IXPs. In July, Internet service providers in Saint Barthélémy met to sign a memorandum of understanding signalling their agreement to begin peering at SBH-IX. In October, Internet service providers in St Martin also signed a memorandum of understanding signalling their willingness to begin peering traffic at SMART-IX. Work is ongoing in Guadeloupe.

The need for continued IXP development and the potential fallout of chronically underdeveloped digital infrastructure will be among several topics discussed from September 11 to 15, at Saint Lucia ICT Week, an initiative organized by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, the American Registry for Internet Numbers and the Caribbean Network Operators Group, in collaboration with Government of Saint Lucia, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Internet Society, the Internet Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

The meeting will bring together business leaders, government officials, ICT professionals, academics, and members of civil society, alongside local, regional, and international experts to explore practical ways in which public policy changes, business initiatives and technical training can together address the challenges hindering regional growth and development.

By Gerard Best, Development Journalist

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