The Private Sector group continued its series of Sector Specific Round Table discussions and met with the IT Sector this week. A varied cross section of IT companies from among the Tech Sector including some of the Chamber’s membership met with the Chamber’s President Jose Ramos and Executive Director Brenda John, at the organisation’s headquarters yesterday to discuss some the challenges they are facing and potential solutions to “increase the size of the pie” in terms of the Tech Sector.
Representatives from Digital Content Production, Financial Sector, IT Consultancy and Fixed and Mobile Internet Providers spoke on a range of issues, including the challenges in hiring suitable candidates with the right mix of Skills and Attitudes and how the private sector could engage in shaping the future talent pool.
A common concern was the level of taxation largely in terms of duties levied on investment in network infrastructure equipment which typically isn’t classified as “computer equipment” which is exempt of duty. However, even the classification of “computer equipment” - which is typically limited to Personal Computer related goods - are now more expensive as they are subject to a 17% VAT charge, which was introduced in November 2010. One attendee said, that successive administrations (like so many around the region) are quick to claim that ICT is a critical sector and vital for growth, but to paraphrase the song, “what have you done for us lately?”
The attendee’s suggested that there should be serious efforts to collaborate with the government and to interface with the newly established ICT Advisory Board, to leverage the work begun between the Government and the OAS to establish a national Computer Security Incident Response Team – CSIRT.
The meeting was seen as a positive step and those present were keen that this should not be a one-off event, but the first step towards the IT sector organising itself to speak with one voice on national ICT development and committed to forming an organised body.
Caribbean Countries Urged To Collaborate More In Developing Single ICT Space
President of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) Darcy Boyce is calling for greater collaboration among Caribbean countries if the regional vision of a single Information and Communications Technology (ICT) space is to be achieved.
Boyce, who is also Barbados’ Minister responsible for Telecommunications was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2016 ICT Week. He said a key objective of the meeting was to get approval of the road map prepared for the implementation of the single ICT space in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Noting that each of the countries was small in international terms, and faced resource constraints that would prevent them on their own from achieving the results they wanted from ICT, Boyce said “together, however, through close collaboration, we are and can be even better positioned to implement the policies and practices that will lead to the desired outcomes”.
He said the vision was to have a regional society based on and powered by knowledge, which would make provision for everyone to participate in and benefit from its sustainable development.
“We want to use ICT and other appropriate technologies to leverage and deepen the region’s resources, through high-speed ICT networks, trained human resources and enhanced processes in order to add social and economic value,” he told the audience.
The CTU president maintained that almost every service sector in Caribbean economies could become better through the use of ICTs. He listed areas such as tourism, education, trade and commerce, health services, public transport, immigration, energy, water and waste management and e-government.
He said that while Caribbean countries were making progress in several of these areas, every country could achieve more, less expensively and faster, if “we shared knowledge of what we are doing, did more coordination of activities and shared best practices and procurement activities”.
ECTEL Head Wants Greater Membership
WITH the ever-changing telecommunications sector in the OECS sub-region being highly valued as one of the fundamental factors for regional growth, a great deal of emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the region remains on top of its game.
It’s part of this changing landscape that has ECTEL’s chief calling for a greater number of countries to join the regulatory body. Currently, ECTEL has five full members, namely Saint Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and Grenada. However, despite making great strides since being established in May, 2000, the organization needs to widen its base, ECTEL’s Managing Director, Embert Charles, said.
“We still need to get the other Member States on board. Going forward, in terms of dealing with some issues, there will be a requirement for all the OECS countries to be on board, especially on the issue of roaming,” Charles said.
Charles said that since ECTEL’s jurisdiction does not include certain countries, should a decision be taken by the governments and a law is passed insofar as, say, roaming is concerned, it will not apply automatically to, say, Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat, which are merely observers on the ECTEL body.
There are technical challenges which currently prevent Montserrat and Antigua & Barbuda from being full members currently. However, getting service providers in all OECS territories to come under the ECTEL umbrella is crucial, Charles said, especially since the region is on the verge of attracting new investment via the Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIP) in some territories. Investors, he said, are usually concerned about the efficiency of a country’s ICT sector before making long-term investment. As such, regulations and competition within the sector play a major role for development.
Yahoo Suffers Biggest Loss Of Data In History
Less than a week after Deloitte CIO Larry Quinlan urged the Caribbean to do more to address the threat of Cyber Crime, at the 33rd Independence Lecture, it’s been revealed that the American Internet company Yahoo was hacked.
In what has been described as the biggest single loss of user data in history, Yahoo has admitted that some ½ Billion (with a B) user records were stolen in 2014. In an e-mail to it’s customers the company advised that a wide range of user data including but not limited to to: customer names, e-mail addresses, passwords both encrypted and unencrypted as well as Challenge Questions and Answers such as What’s your cat’s name and Where you went to School etc. as well as personal information such as your date of birth are all now potentially in the hands of the hackers.
The revelation might also have ramifications for the proposed acquisition of Yahoo by Verizon which might be left holding the bag for any future compensation claims.
Obviously, if you have a Yahoo e-mail address, you should change your password and more importantly not “re-use” - that is use one password for multiple websites or services. You should also not use any social media account to gain access to other web services.
The Private Sector Commission in Guyana has learnt its support to calls by the Guyana Association of Bankers for greater protection of customer banking records.
The PSC said it has observed that the age-old principles, on which the banking system is founded, have been violated in recent times. The Commission made reference to the amendment of Section 63 of the Financial Institutions Act which mandates that account information must be shared with certain agencies.
The PSC said it is important to note that the “agencies” which receive this information, are similarly bound by the confidentiality rules as are the banks and must ensure that these are respected in order to preserve the integrity of the financial system.
The Commission said that the sort of débâcle in which bank account information recently ended up on the pages of newspapers must be avoided at all costs.
Speaking with Kaieteur News, PSC Head, Eddie Boyer said, “I would imagine that if the media gets the information from the agencies which are legally entrusted to have it then it would constitute a breach of confidentiality.”
The PSC head said that bankers are saying that when a customer sees his or her account information in the press, it understandably raises some level of concern.Central Bank Governor, Dr. Gobind Ganga has also expressed his concerns, stating “That it is reasonable to understand that any customer would lose confidence in the banking system if he or she feels that their account is not being guarded as it should be.
INTERPOL Holds Cyber Crime Training Sessions For Latin America and Caribbean Countries
INTERPOL recently conducted a series of cyber-crime training sessions in Latin America and the Caribbean seeking to enhance regional law enforcement capacity to respond to and prevent cyber-threats.
The training efforts served as an important part of INTERPOL’s Cyber-crime Capacity Building Project in Latin America and the Caribbean. The training sessions were funded by the government of Canada.
The three training sessions had a total of 64 law enforcement participants from 29 countries and territories. Each session focused on mobile forensics, online investigations and providing a first-response to cyber incidents. Training took place in cooperation with the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Dominican Republic National Police and the Colombian National Police.
“Training sessions such as these remain at the forefront of INTERPOL’s efforts to enhance law enforcement capacity to meet the challenges of policing technology-enabled crimes,” Madan Oberoi, director of cyber-crime at INTERPOL, said. “With cyber-attacks taking place with increasing frequency around the world, it is crucial for police to stay ahead of criminals by understanding new trends and responding with innovative solutions.”
ECTEL's Media Clinic Moves To St Lucia
The second in the series of ECTEL media clinics for Member States took in place Saint Lucia. The theme of the clinic which will draw media practitioners from across the Saint Lucian media landscape is: “Changes in the Regulatory Landscape for Electronic Communications-The Role of ECTEL and the NTRC.”
The media clinic aims to bring together media practitioners in ECTEL Member States, to familiarize them with the current regulatory landscape and the pertinent issues and trends affecting the sector and ECTEL’s role as regulator for the five sovereign states. It will also help the media to understand the role and regulatory functions of the national Commissions, in this case, the NTRC of Saint Lucia.
Presentations will be made on topics such as the structure and functions of ECTEL based on the Treaty; structure of the NTRC; broadcasting and spectrum monitoring; and the role of the Minister for Telecommunications. The clinic will also look at the Electronic Communications Sector in the ECTEL Member States – key trends, indicators and statistics and discuss the role of data in regulation.
The facilitators will also provide updates on new regulatory initiatives including the EC Bill, Regulations, Roaming and Number Portability. The first such event was held in Grenada in July. Similar events are also planned for the remaining three ECTEL Member States.
Increased Internet Access In Latin America and Caribbean, Says CEPAL
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) meeting this week in San Jose,confirmed that Internet users compared to the total population of the region has grown significantly over the period 2000 to 2015.
The report, highlights that the number of households connected to the Internet in Latin America and the Caribbean grew 14.1 percent as an annual average over the last five years.
Resulting in 43.4 percent of all households in the region being connected to the internet in 2015, almost twice the rate in 2010. However, despite these advances, there are problems linked to quality – reliability and connection speed and equal access differences by location and socio-economic situation of the population, said the document.
There is also a huge difference in the range of access amid countries in the region: out of the 24 countries researched in 2015, three countries reported that less than 15 percent of homes with internet access; 15 countries were between 15 percent and 45 percent; three countries between 45 percent and 56 percent, and only Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay reached 60 percent.
Jamaica’s Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley is unapologetic and standing firm on his Government’s stance to support for net neutrality, which is the principle of equal access to Internet content and applications.
Last year, there was widespread concern from mobile phones customers in Jamaica that a local phone company was blocking WhatsApp calls, to which Dr Wheatley's opinion is that, phone providers should reassess their business models and become more innovative.
He says for Caribbean countries to become greater producers of technology, there must be an unhindered environment for innovation, creativity and freedom of expression. However, Dr Wheatley says there seems to be some confusion with the application of net neutrality rules in US and the EU compared with the Caribbean. He says each Caribbean country must determine how best these rules work for their economic goals.
Call For Caribbean Animators To Tell Our Story
Over the past fifteen years of the Animae Caribe Festival we have been encouraging artists, animators and writers to create their own content. The message is consistent “We need to become creators and not just consumers”. Young dynamic entrepreneurs like Trinidadian Jeunanne Atkins creator of 'Bim and Bam' and Alison Latchman creator of 'Magnus the Mongoose' from Jamaica and a few others have worked incessantly over the years to develop their stories. That's the opinion of Camile Selvon Abrahams, founder of the event.
You too can be part of this evolution. “We are creating a platform for crowd funding, (this will be announced closer to the festival) match funding and an angel investment pitch for six animated series ready for production.” Says Ms. Abrahams founder of Animae Caribe. With mentoring from members of the Diaspora in the global animation industry this is a unique but innovative approach to creating diverse content.
Submissions are open until the end of August for animators to submit their short stories as part of the 16th Anniversary of Animae Caribe Festival.
Jamaican Business Access TV To Air In Barbados and Trinidad
Jamaican based Business Access Television has entered an agreement with Digicel Play to air its business and lifestyle-focused content in Trinidad and Barbados.
Garth Walker and Leighton Davis launched the television station last year in partnership with telecoms provider FLOW, noting that the channel would benefit from the provider’s strong local distribution and IP video technology. Expectations were that the partnership would extend to Caribbean-wide distribution.
From its successful start in Jamaica, expanding across the Caribbean region is the next phase of the company’s development after adding On Point to its scheduling — a Jamaica-based business current affairs programme created and produced by BATV. The expansion is expected to have a positive impact on Jamaican entrepreneurs as it increases their potential customer base.
In welcoming BATV to the service, Digicel Play Group CEO, John Suranyi, commented: “We are focused on delivering a great cross-section of content to our customers. BATV is a great example of locally produced Jamaican content with regional ambitions. We are delighted to be bringing it to a Caribbean audience.”
The new administration in Trinidad & Tobago has joined that of St. Kitts & Nevis, in taking a moment of pause to re-evaluate it's school laptop distribution. Across the region there was a raft of such programmes which to many were thought to be ill-conceived, unsustainable and poorly implemented at best or otherwise politically motivated gimmicks.
At a briefing held by Trinidad's Education Minister Anthony Garcia, he revealed that “Students will not be given personal laptops,” Garcia said. “Laptops will be the property of the school.” Fifty laptops will be for a school’s Form 1 pool of students, while 50 will be for the Form 2 pool, the minister explained. Some 12,600 laptops will be supplied in the new term but will be the property of the schools, at a cost of $63 million, compared to an annual cost of $253 million under the previous arrangement.
Garcia justified the cutback in laptops by lamenting on the “colossal waste” and a need to get “value for money”, as he alluded to pupil misuse of laptops to play games instead of studying. He bemoaned a lack of backup for the laptops including teacher training and Internet access at schools.
Garcia said that a study conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the laptop programme found problems arising from the former regime’s alleged lack of an “ICT Policy”, citing one pupil saying that a lack of Internet access had led pupils to use the laptops mainly to play games and record school fights. He said the provision of one laptop per pupil was found to be counter productive as it led to no increase in student performance in core subject-areas.
Costa Rica To Host Second Meeting Of ECLAC's ICT, Science Conference
The second session of the conference on Science, Innovation and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) will begin Monday 12th in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The event will coincide with the inauguration of the World Information Technology Forum (WITFOR 2016), which will bring together representatives of government, industry and ICT associations, as well as academics to analyse the latest proposals aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the United Nations.
The inter-governmental meeting, organised by ECLAC and Costa Rica’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications, has the support of the German Agency for International Cooperation and the European Commission. It will be broadcast live via the Internet on the Conference’s Web site at http://innovalac.cepal.org/2/en
On September 13th, at the seminar ‘Innovation in a Digital World’, delegates from 15 countries will join representatives of companies in the digital ecosystem and of international organisations to debate the Internet’s disruptive effects on production, the on-demand economy, digital innovation and SMEs, infrastructure for hyper-connectivity, and competition and collaboration for leading digital transformation and innovation.
Two documents will be launched at the event dubbed Science, Technology and Innovation in the Digital Economy. They are The Situation of Latin America and the Caribbean and the State of Broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, the annual report of ECLAC’s Regional Broadband Observatory.
The Conference on Science, Innovation and ICTs was created in 2012 as a subsidiary body of ECLAC to promote the development and improvement of national policies, as well as bilateral, regional and international cooperation. The first meeting was held in Santiago, Chile, in June 2014.
Jamaican Investment Club Alpha Angels Score A Hit
Perfect pick! Montego Bay-based Alpha Angels made an impressive selection for its very first start-up investment - mSurvey.
Just five months ago, Montego Bay-based Alpha Angels made an impressive selection for its very first start-up investment in mSurvey, which is a mobile survey platform. Now the high-growth tech start-up has won the attention and banked investment from the investment arm of the Kenyan mobile network operator, Safaricom, known for the successful creation of mobile money M-PESA, with over 21 million customers and over US$20 billion of transactions.
The company also secured capital from Cross Culture Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley, and other investors such as the CTO of Salesforce. mSurvey, founded by Caribbean national Kenfield Griffith, is the only global mobile-first research survey platform that uses SMS and mobile messaging technology to collect on-demand data from consumers.
The CEO, who migrated from Montserrat to Kenya to find an unsaturated market for his business idea, created a scalable business in the African country which now boasts 3.1 million customer engagements. mSurvey was also featured in an article by the leading technology media hub, TechCrunch, which is a big win for the start-up who has clients like Harvard, McKinsey, Safaricom and Digicel. mSurvey is working on scaling to the Caribbean market and further grow its business.
C&WJ Minority Owners Vote Down Resolution In Protest & Demand Financial Transparency From Company Directors
Minority share-holders of Cable & Wireless Jamaica (C&WJ) on Wednesday defied the board of directors and voted against a standard resolution to set pay for auditor KPMG in order to make a wider point on transparency.
Voting on resolution was subsequently adjourned for 30 days when C&WJ shareholders can vote via poll on the matter. The shareholders at the annual general meeting on Wednesday demanded independent verification of the heavily fluctuating multi-billion-dollar non-cash charges, which lead the company into losses. Annual losses at C&WJ once topped $20 billion back in 2012.
It was a rare display of minority shareholders exercising their voting power at an AGM. "It's a win for minority shareholders for the moment," minority shareholder Orette Staple declared to the Financial Gleaner just after the adjournment of the AGM.
As context, the resolutions to be voted on at AGMs are circulated to shareholders beforehand in the company's annual report, and votes on them tend to be mere formalities. However, the C&WJ 29th AGM will go down as the date minority shareholders took a stand - and held their ground in the face of push back from management.
"We have not heard, to my knowledge, a frank and credible reason for changing the auditors other than you are vexed with the numbers. That's not good enough," said C&WJ Managing Director Garfield Sinclair. That led to a chorus of shareholders shouting "transparency".
The auditors received payment of $53 million for the year ending March 2016, up from $50 million the previous, according to disclosures in the annual report. But the fee was not the matter of contention.
At the core of the issue, is that the shareholders want the auditors or some other independent body to verify these non-cash expense charges, which violently fluctuate on an annual basis.
Some shareholders questioned whether the auditors rigorously test these impairment and depreciation charges, or whether the charges are estimates that increasingly reflect opinion rather than fact. "How much of these assets that were written off are still active and functional," asked a shareholder, a Mr Minott, at the meeting.
C&WJ, which trades as FLOW Jamaica and who's parent company C&W has been acquired by Liberty Global, posted its first annual profit in a decade at year end March 2016 due in part to these non-cash impairment charges (bundled as exceptional items) effectively shifting from an expense of $6.9 billion in 2014-15 towards income of $1.13 billion in 2015-16.
Among the key findings of the most recent review of the electronic communications sector in ECTEL Member States, is that Investment in the sector has seen an increase among the Member States.
For the second year running, sector investment recorded double digit growth. Following the 35 per cent increase for the previous period, investment in the telecommunications sector increased a further 29 per cent to $157 million. This was again driven by infrastructure upgrades for the launch of 4G/HSPA+ mobile broadband service in the Member States.
Fixed broadband subscription growth also accelerated. The number of fixed broadband subscriptions rose 11 per cent resulting in a fixed broadband penetration rate of 19.2 per cent up from 17.2 per cent in the previous period.
The annual electronic communications review for the period March 2014 to 2015 also indicated that 4G/HSPA+ mobile broadband service is now available in all ECTEL Member States. As consumers in the
Member States migrated from 2G to 4G service, the number of mobile broadband subscriptions grew by more than 400 per cent to 205,000, according to the review.
There was a modicum of good news for employment in the sector in at least two Member States. Following a 22 per cent contraction in the number of persons employed full time in the telecoms sector, there was a 1 per cent increase in sector employment.
One Month SPISE Camp Grooms Future Caribbean Scientists
Now in its fifth year, the annual Student Programme for Innovation in Science and Engineering -SPISE programme, hosted by the Caribbean Science Foundation, aims to groom the region’s next generation of leaders in science, technology and engineering. For one month, students from around the Caribbean were immersed in an intensive programme of study, doing university-level courses in robotics, electronics, computer programming and Mandarin, among others.
Yvette Lemonias-Seale, vice president, corporate services and bank secretary, of the CDB said, “We’re very happy to once again support SPISE, as we believe that science, technology and engineering are critical to the Caribbean’s economic growth and development. Through this programme, talented students from across the region are given the opportunity to develop their skills in a number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas. We hope that this will in turn encourage them to pursue careers in these areas, and by doing so, contribute to economic growth and development in the Caribbean,”
Students demonstrated what they had learned over the four weeks to their parents, friends, and sponsors. As part of their final project presentations, students showed off their newly acquired Mandarin language and dance skills, presented computer games that they had developed and programmed themselves, and demoed wind turbines made out of PVC pipes, and robots that could move underwater.
SPISE is led by Professor Cardinal Warde of MIT, and is modeled after the well-known and highly successful Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) programme at MIT, for which Warde has served as the faculty director for over 15 years. All post SPISE students also have the opportunity to be assisted with their college applications, and to participate in research internships in the Caribbean and abroad.
There were 19 participants in the 2016 programme, hailing from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and Martinique. It is the first time that a student from the French-speaking Caribbean has participated in the programme.
Blink BMobile Partners With NIHERST On Science Initiative
Now in its 17th year, the Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), facilitated by Trinidad & Tobago's National Institute of Higher Education, Science and Technology (NIHERST), has an even stronger appeal. This year, with the support of communications company, blink | bmobile, some 150 sixth-form students, on the cusp of entering university, were introduced to STEM based careers through lectures, workshops and field trips with leading scientists and innovators.
Camille Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer (Ag) at TSTT, commended the National Institute of Higher Education, Science and Technology (NIHERST) for its commitment to STEM Education stating, “It is important to inspire the next generation of Caribbean thinkers and innovators and part of this is introducing them to different, lucrative career paths that have potential to impact the world. We can no longer rely on the comfort and security of the oil and gas industry so it’s therefore critical that we expose our future leaders to careers that are aligned to Science, Technology and Innovation”.
Participants of the week-long residential camp were introduced to a wide range of career options from mobile application development and structural and civil engineering to electro-physiology, medical physics, sports psychology and neuroscience.
The budding scientists and innovators were also given the opportunity to interact with top scientists such as Dr Colin Carew, Director and Founder of the new Innovation and Inclusion Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. Dr Carew delivered the keynote address at CYSF 2016 where he focused on the Caribbean as a World Class Epicenter of Technology and Innovation.
It is estimated that by 2020, there will be some 6.1 billion smartphone users worldwide. At CYSF 2016, leading app development company, NOVO Technology Inc were on hand to introduce participants to the exciting and ever expanding world of creating mobile apps. The interactive hour-long session, aptly titled “Welcome to the Appverse”, delved into the process of creation and app design and even introduced to the often neglected elements of economics, management and marketing.