|Connecting Antigua and Barbuda
|Dr Edmond Mansoor
|Minister of Information Technology, Broadcasting and Telecommunications
|Antigua and Barbuda
Dr Edmond Mansoor is a Senator and the Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda responsible for Information Technology, Broadcasting and Telecommunications. He is a past President of the Antigua and Barbuda Medical Association and a past President of the Senate, the Upper House of Parliament in Antigua and Barbuda. Dr Mansoor is a first class honours Bachelor of Science graduate of St Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, Canada; he graduated as a medical doctor from the University of the West Indies, Barbados.
Antigua and Barbuda is counting upon ICT to boost its economy, now largely dependant on tourism, and provide needed services to its population. The laws regulating the sector date back to 1954, are limited in scope and are not ‘technology neutral’. A government monopoly controls wire-line communications. Nevertheless, there are three mobile companies, two data companies, one wire-line company and an international telephone company. The government is pursuing an aggressive eight-point Community Technology Programme, to reach out to the country’s youth and disabled.
Antigua and Barbuda is part of the chain of Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. Its population is just under seventy thousand (70,000) persons and it can be found on latitude 170 03’ N and longitude 600 43’ W. It’s total land mass is approximately four hundred and forty two (442) square kilometers. It is part of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that is made up of five other countries and three dependencies. The main industry of Antigua and Barbuda is tourism and this contributes to over 70 per cent of the GDP; the country’s per capita income stands at just over US$11,000. Telecommunications sector Our telecommunications sector is vibrant, but its full potential has not yet been reached as we are only now revamping our laws to take advantage of the vagaries of technological expansion. We are governed by a 1951 Telecommunications Act that is limited in scope as it is not ‘technology neutral’ and monopoly regimes are still entrenched. One of the primary drivers to the changing of our laws is the fact that we are signatories to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The sector, while governed by the antiquated law, still enjoys a degree of competitive freedom. There are three mobile companies, two data companies, one wire-line company and an international telephone company. The international company has an exclusive agreement in place, intended to last twenty-five years, but the Government has since negotiated an agreement in principle to end this agreement. The wire-line company is a hundred per cent owned by the government. This company (the Antigua Public Utilities Authority) is unusual in its structure as it is also an amalgam of the electric and water companies. Unfortunately, as with most government-run entities, it is thought that the true tariffs are not charged for either electricity or water, so these are offered to the public at below cost. In turn, the telephone revenues go to subsidising the two other entities. This situation is not considered sustainable and the government is presently looking at revamping the way these utilities are managed. Antigua and Barbuda has just had another undersea cable installed and the value of this to the country immediately exceeded expectations. Although we are still waiting for a legal framework that will enable the regulation of the sector, prices are nevertheless beginning to fall precipitously and bandwidth to the average customer is increasing exponentially. ICT development The Government of Antigua and Barbuda realizes that it has to exist within a ‘global village’ and therefore it has begun to create programmes around its policy that states: “ICT is intended to upgrade the intellectual capital of the Nation and build an open, pluralistic society – one in which all citizens and residents have access to information and knowledge.” The programmes that are both currently underway and presently being refined on the drawing table are premised on the firm belief that we have to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda is tied into the rest of the world, and we are using ICTs to so do. Probably, like most if not all developing countries, financial resources are at a premium, but this simply means that governments have to be more innovative if their people are to survive into the future. The government has ensured that there is public-private partnership to help undertake the development of some of the ideas and it will seek to increase the use of this methodology. We recognise that the future of any country is in its youth. Therefore, naturally, as a starting point for this our e-development, our focus is on our youth and educational programmes. With this in mind, we have created our eight-point Community Technology Programme, to reach out to them. The first task of the programme involves the building of Community Access Centres similar to those many other developing countries have set up. We offer classes at differing times and our intention is to build at least 18 of these centres by the end of 2007; the centre building programme is on track. Second, we have mobile IT classrooms. These are buses that have each been outfitted with 17 high-speed touch screen computers and wireless Internet access. The fleet of three buses will serve 30 schools on a weekly basis. In order to develop needed human resource skills, the country is creating the post of Community Technology Officers. These officers will be responsible for managing the daily activities of the Community Access Centres and offer operational and planning support. There will be two types of educational components, one geared towards primary school age children from kindergarten to grade seven, and another based on online training courses geared towards adults. The kindergarten to grade seven programmes, otherwise called the Education Max Advantage, will seek to enforce literacy, mathematical skills, computer literacy and health awareness. A multi-lingual studies programme will be offered at the centres. This is important, since we recognise that the majority of our closest neighbours all speak Spanish. With the collaboration and help of the Cuban Government we have identified a professor who will help to build the curricula that will be used to create specialised software as an adjunct to didactic teaching. The course material will also be taped and re-broadcasted on the government’s information channel. Approximately, five per cent of our population is physically or visually challenged. As a result, they have often been marginalised by society, The government recognises that they can become productive members of society if only they were properly trained and equipped to do so. As a first step, with this training initiative, several pieces of specialised equipment are being procured; these include large print keyboards, zoom text magnifiers and readers, embossers and specialised software. In addition, the School for the Blind will be specially retrofitted to accommodate and meet the information technology needs of the visually challenged. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has seen the need to invest in its young people, to equip them with the necessary skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and to ensure that these skills are widely disseminated throughout its population. The intention of this programme, although aggressive, is achievable, and the expectations are that it will affect 30,000 of our citizens by the year of 2008. Finally, Antigua and Barbuda believes technology is not a reward for development, but a tool for development.