Telecommunications play an important role in Caribbean economies. Information technology in general is replacing natural resources as the determining factor in a country’s socio-economic position in the world. Although the Caribbean is not a densely populated area, its telecommunications infrastructure is as advanced as that of the first world countries. The proximity to the United States, as well as the dependence of many Caribbean islands on service industries (tourism, banking, etc.), have helped make this possible. The Caribbean island countries and territories compare favorably with other emerging countries in terms of the number of telephone lines per 100 inhabitants.

The telephone industry on many of the Caribbean islands underwent important transformations during the 1980s and many of the countries and territories opted for privatization and open markets. Therefore, while most of the telephone companies were formerly the property of the state, which had a monopoly in the sector, in the 1980s not only were the public telephone corporations sold to private owners, but the telephone markets and digital telephony were also opened to competition. By the early 1990s, 75 percent of the telephones in the region were digital.

In an economy highly dependent on the service industry (tourism and banking), however, the majority of these telephone lines are dedicated to businesses, and there still exists a problem of generalized access to telephone service among ordinary citizens. According to some economists, this lack of broad information services by the general public is an obstacle to efforts to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment and is an issue of “social justice.”

In any event, advances in information technology in the Caribbean zone have not been matched by advances in air and sea transport for people and merchandise. Perhaps the greatest problem facing the Caribbean Basin, in terms of basic communications infrastructure, is the problem of internal transportation. While the geography of the islands presents an obstacle to the establishment of free-flowing transportation networks, the different cultures among the islands, as well as the different languages, are additional obstacles. Air and maritime transportation are deficient and it has become clear that there is a need to modernize as the growing tourism economy affects the region. According to findings by the World Bank’s International Financial Corporation, in a report titled Physical Infrastructure for CARICOM’s Growth and Global Competitiveness, issued in June, 2007, the Caribbean region does not have the airport infrastructure to handle the tourists who visit the region, the frequency of connections between islands is insufficient and the connections between the islands and the continental countries in the Caribbean Basin are almost non-existent, and in many cases is only possible by making a stop in the United States. Evidence of this lack of intraregional communication is reflected in the low rates of intraregional trade (the percentage of total exports that are intraregional exports), which is about 20% in the Caribbean. This compares unfavorably with 54% in Asia or 67% in the European Union.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: March 20, 2012.

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