ST. GEORGE’S, GRENADA - We’ve all been that person. That person, standing in that line, waiting that long, wondering why that thing couldn’t just be done online.  That person waiting in line for a birth certificate to complete a child’s primary school application, or a death certificate to execute a loved one’s will. That person waiting in line to query a utility bill, or renew an expiring form of national identification. Waiting in line to pay a parking ticket or a speeding ticket. Standing in line with original
documents and photocopies in hand, waiting to fill in a Change Of Address form because you just moved, or a Change Of Name form because you just got married. Or both. And then waiting in three other lines in three different government offices to make that same change again and again and again.

In the Caribbean, too many have been that person. So many are no longer surprised at the battery of balkanised bureaucratic barricades that pop up whenever there’s a major transaction to be done. But maybe you’re wondering why it’s taking us so long to shift from standing in line to doing business online. Here’s some of what you may need to know.

Globally, governments and businesses are using the Internet to lower operational cost and increase overall efficiency by migrating service delivery from traditional in-person formats to web-based solutions and mobile applications. In the Caribbean, however, while governments and businesses are investing in technology, it seems the public and private sector alike have struggled to keep pace with clients’ evolving expectations.

A big part of the problem is not technical but social. The development of any Internet-based solutions, whether it’s a mobile application for personal banking or a web portal for renewing driver permits, requires conversations among a broad base of actors, and that conversation depends on relationships among a network of people who can call upon each other to ask questions, exchange ideas, trade insights and share experiences. You could say it takes a community to build a solution. For the Caribbean, the problem is, more often than not, the communities that should assemble to forge common solutions do not.

But that could be changing. One group of Caribbean business, internet, telecoms and government representatives is taking a promising approach to addressing the underlying problem. Called the Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum, or CarPIF, the group has been meeting annually since 2015, providing the region’s government, private sector and technical stakeholders with a unique space to develop cross-sectoral relationships and hammer out the next steps for the Internet to drive
innovation, digital opportunities and economic growth at the local and regional levels.

Bevil Wooding, co-founder of the CarPIF community and Caribbean Outreach Liaison at the American Registry for Internet Numbers, explained why the forum has become an important enabler of Caribbean development.

“CarPIF is a unique and absolutely essential forum for persons who have the responsibility for creating, developing, securing, and managing Internet infrastructure in the Caribbean. The discussions, shared
experiences and relationships developed within the group over the years have made a tangible difference to Caribbean Internet connectivity, policy and digital innovation,” he said.

One consistent theme in many CarPIF discussions is the importance of Internet exchange points, or IXPs. An IXP is a piece of Internet infrastructure that allows Internet service providers and websites to peer or interconnect with each other within a single building at relatively low cost.

“By strengthening the region’s IXPs and other underlying Internet infrastructure, the CarPIF community is helping to establish an Internet foundation layer that can support essential government service delivery, and much more. A strong Internet foundation can also support innovative, value-added, commercially viable tourism products for the region,” Wooding said.

“Caribbean IXPs will help to make local video content more easily and reliably available to external users. They could be important contributors to an expanded tourism product that attracts more international conferences, sporting events and concerts to the region. People will be able to view these events live without delays or interruption. It would be interesting to see whether hotels could be convinced to join IXPs in the near future. Multinational companies, both traditional and internet based will will also want to be a part of IXP initiatives,” said Peter Harrison, chief technology officer at Colovore, a Silicon Valley-based colocation company, and member of the board of trustees at the American Registry for Internet Numbers.

Harrison attended last year’s CarPIF meeting in Belize City in person, and this year joined the community of remote participants connecting to the CarPIF community via video livestream. Like previous meetings, at the 2019 gathering participants discussed technical, commercial and policy issues related to expanding Internet connectivity, increasing local digital content development, and supporting online government service delivery and e-commerce solutions in the Caribbean.

“We really saw the importance of collaboration. I am sure that the participants, after they leave this room, will continue to collaborate to see who they can make the Caribbean a much better place,” said Shernon Osepa, CarPIF co-founder and Regional Affairs Manager for Latin America and Caribbean Bureau of the Internet Society.

If you didn’t make it out to CarPIF 5, you might want to circle the dates for next year. The southern Caribbean island of Curaçao has been selected as the venue, from June 9 to 11, 2020. And once registration opens, you shouldn’t find yourself waiting in any long lines or paying hefty transaction fees. Registration is always done online and attendance is typically free of charge.

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