Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 8th 2015 Contents SBG6 NEWS
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt FEBRUARY 8 • 2015
By 2016, one per cent of the
world s population will
own more than half of its
wealth. The staggering
projection, from a recent
study by anti-poverty
group Oxfam, made head-
lines just as the World
Economic Forum (WEF) was getting started in
Davos last month.
One concern for secretary general of the Com-
monwealth Telecommunications Organisation
(CTO) Professor Tim Unwin, who was at the
WEF, is that the rapid spread of information
and communications technologies is not helping
to reduce that growing gap between poor and
"The difference between the least developed
and the most developed in getting greater. In
that way, you can say that ICTs are actually
increasing inequality," he said, in a telephone
interview from the annual gathering of top polit-
ical and business leaders in Switzerland.
As head of a body bringing together perspec-
tives of telecoms stakeholders from across the
53 countries of the Commonwealth---about one-
third of the world s population---Unwin is deeply
concerned about that growing digital divide,
and the dual impact of technology development
on the world s poorest.
Developing Caribbean capacity
"One of the things that always strikes me
when I visit the Caribbean is how much more
advanced and successful and connected it is
than many other parts of the Commonwealth,"
While the islands size is a source of some
economic challenges, it also provides some
"The islands are relatively small, so it is not
so problematic to get universal connectivity, as
compared with, say, Nigeria or Pakistan," Unwin
But Internet access and connectivity alone
won t reduce the gap between poor and rich.
For Unwin, the real priority is not simply to
increase the quantity of Internet users but to
improve the overall quality of Internet usage.
Two major issues affecting quality, he said, are
bandwidth and cost, which is where Internet
service providers and industry regulators play
such a critical role in the region s Internet eco-
"What you can do with large bandwidth com-
pared with low bandwidth is incredibly different,
particulary with the rapid increase in applications
that use video and large amounts of data. And
the second variable is cost. That s where reg-
ulators play a crucial role in helping to ensure
that markets operate as effectively as possible."
Delivering Caribbean content
The point of developing local capacity, Unwin
was quick to point out, is to deliver local content.
The potential of the underlying technology is
only realised if it is used to facilitate the delivery
of other services, such as digital banking, online
education, mobile health or e-government. But
that is easier said than done.
"Content development is quite expensive and
resources aren t always put into that. It s much
easier to lay a bit of fibre than it is to develop
the content that is going to go over it," said
Unwin, who also sits on the advisory board of
the m-Powering Development Initiative of the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
One obstacle to developing local content, he
said, is the lack of functional relationships
between government ministries or even min-
isterial departments, which would need to har-
monise their operations in order to produce
high-quality local content.
So significant is the difficulty involved in
developing relevant local content that there is
a great temptation to simply import content
from abroad, and sidestep the growing pains of
building local capacity. But shortcuts are dan-
gerous, Unwin said, citing the example of
MOOCs, or massively open online courses,
which are web-based courses aimed at unlimited
participation through open access.
"I d like to challenge some of those who think
that things like MOOCs are the solution for the
education of small-island states. I completely
disagree because MOOCs can be a form of cul-
tural or intellectual imperialism. The fact that
people can get access to courses from richer
countries is problematic, to me. What we want
to have is locally developed, locally produced
content, that is indigenous to users in Caribbean
The challenge for Caribbean societies, there-
fore, is to define and produce content that is
appropriate and relevant, to enable solutions
that align with development priorities.
"You have to make sure you have the right
content in the right formats for the right people.
If you re just importing content from outside,
you re not building the knowledge-base of your
Beyond the divide
One of the CTO s key partners in helping the
region to face up to this challenge is the
Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).
The two work together on policy development,
and have collaborated closely at significant inter-
national gatherings, including meetings held by
the International Telecommunication Union.
"We believe, as does the CTU, in the real
importance of avoiding duplication and overlap.
One of the things we respect about the CTU
is their openness to working collaboratively,"
The CTU was established in 1989 by the
heads of Caricom governments, to support its
members in leveraging telecommunications for
social and economic development. Unwin
explained the importance of the CTO in helping
the CTU pursue that mission in a globalised
"Across the world, there are different regional
telecommunications unions, sometimes working
in isolation and therefore unable to learn from
each other. So, what s happening in Africa may
not be known in Asia. Or what s happening in
the Caribbean may not be as well known to
people in the Pacific. One of the things that the
CTO can do is bring together perspectives from
people from many different parts of the Com-
monwealth, so that together we can do far more
than any one of us could do by ourselves."
Several Caribbean ministers were among 30
official delegates from across the Commonwealth
who signed an agreement outlining shared prin-
ciples for the development of broadband, at the
CTO s first-ever Commonwealth ICT Ministers
in London in March of last year. The CTO is
working with the Organisation of American
States and the CTU to help Caribbean states
seeking to take that commitment forward, Unwin
At one upcoming workshop, organised in
partnership with the Antigua and Barbuda gov-
ernment, Unwin will focus on how technology
can help improve quality of life for people with
"Last time I was in Port-of-Spain," he said,
"we ran a workshop for young people on how
they can use technology to build their entre-
preneurial skills and contribute to the econo-
Partnering with success
Unwin returned to Trinidad this month as a
feature speaker in the CTU s 25th Anniversary
ICT Week, which ran from February 2 to 6, at
the Hyatt Regency hotel.
The event celebrated the achievements of
CTU members and the contribution of strategic
partnerships, like the one with the CTO, drawn
from within and beyond the region. The last
two days featured workshops organised in part-
nership with the Internet Society, the Latin
American and Caribbean Internet Addresses
Registry, the International Corporation of
Assigned Names and Numbers, the Organisation
of American States, the University of the West
Indies, The American Registry of Internet Num-
bers, Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime
and Security and Arkitechs.
Among the highlights of the five-day event
was the signing of new agreements between
the CTU and the International Telecommuni-
cations Satellite Organisation and the ITU.
Beyond the digital divide
Developing local capacity to deliver local content
From page 3
If you look at TCL s debt in 2010 prior to the first debt
restructuring, TCL had around US$250 million in debt. This
debt ballooned to US$305 million after the agreement with
the lenders because of fees and capitalised interest. The lenders
want to take this money from shareholders when they should
be considering forgiving all or part of it.
Why should the lenders take higher interest rates as well
as the proceeds from the Rights Issue to reduce their risk
when they entered into the original loan agreements with their
eyes wide open. They had more information than the average
shareholder, as they saw all the marketing, financial, and tech-
nical studies before they approved the loans. Having shareholders
bear that burden with such long-term dilution is nothing short
Mr Espinet also appeared on CNC3 with Hema Ramkissoon
and I had to cringe at the number of errors during that show.
TCL s share price did not start declining in 2002 after the
failed Cemex takeover attempt. It was in 2005 that TCL s
share price exceeded $10 per share and after that was impacted
by the Global Economic Crisis and shareholders concerns
about the group s expansion in Jamaica.
During that interview Mr Espinet made the ludicrous state-
ment that the 20 per cent protected the last Board. If the 20
per cent protected that last board, how come there is a new
Board in place? In his effort to demonise the 20 per cent he
is blaming it for everything! He also noted that TCL is "at
its lowest period in its history."
Mr Espinet and his board came to power with high expec-
tations and great enthusiasm in August 2014, promising to
improve the performance of the company, grow the share
price, and start paying dividends. None of this has taken place
and since taking power the new Board has made numerous
They should never have put the company into default as
now the interest rate is 12 per cent and Fitch and Standard
& Poors downgraded TCL s bonds to such an extent that
returning to the international capital markets is no longer an
They are pandering to the OWTU, handing out generous
settlements, reinstating fired workers, and promising that "not
a man shall go". However they are also promising shareholders
that they will "drastically reduce costs, improve efficiencies,
and return the company to a focus on growing shareholder
Somebody needs to tell Mr Espinet that he can t have his
cake and eat it. Something will have to give. But, as I noted
in an earlier letter, the current TCL Board is just "sweet talking"
the Union until they get their way and then the axe will fall.
Finally I agree with Mr Permell. Don t ask shareholders to
remove the 20 per cent without also asking shareholders per-
mission to have a Rights Issue. Also invite Cemex to bid for
the company rather than "squeezing out" existing sharehold-
Rollin Bertrand, PhD, DBA
Let the creditors bear the burden
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