Digital Ecosystem Country Assessment (DECA) Report
This regional assessment describes current challenges and opportunities in digital ecosystems across the Eastern and Southern Caribbean (ESC). Varying in terrain, population, culture, and economy, each of the countries in the region is unique. Yet, digital issues, from information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure development, cybersecurity, and data protection, to digital finance and e-commerce are influenced by common aspects of the broader development context. While participants in this assessment were supportive of continued progress toward digital transformation, the multitude of projects and initiatives in the region increases the risk of duplication and potential fragmentation at a time when regional coordination and harmonization are critical. Gaps remain in the process of articulating, drafting, and effectively implementing shared frameworks on ICT policy issues ranging from spectrum allocation to data protection and use and cybersecurity.
The Eastern and Southern Caribbean (ESC) DECA took place between July 2021 and November 2021. It included desk research, consultations with USAID/ESC, and eight weeks of virtual key informant interviews. The virtual research included 63 Interviews with stakeholders from civil society, academia, the private and public sectors, international development organizations, and USAID/ESC technical offices.
The DECA was guided by the ESC Regional Development Cooperation Strategy which includes five regional development priorities:
Government Accountability and Transparency Improved
- Capacity to finance development increased
- Citizen protection enhanced
- Ability to withstand shocks increased
Community Resilience Strengthened
- Citizens empowered to prevent and recover from crime and violence
- Communities equipped to reduce vulnerabilities
Pillar 1: Digital Infrastructure and Adoption
- Broadband infrastructure remains limited in rural areas despite much progress. Divides in broadband access increase vulnerability in rural communities by limiting access to critical information, online services, education, and work opportunities.
- Mobile broadband data use is relatively low across the region. Limited competition in the market and the relatively high cost of data compared to the average income, particularly for youth and unemployed populations, limit greater uptake.
- People with disabilities have limited access to digital devices and online services. The regional Universal Service Fund (USF) provisions help with access to devices, but are not region-wide or implemented universally.
- There is limited data available to measure and monitor changes in digital divides. Gender-disaggregated data on internet adoption and use, detailed geographic coverage maps for individual countries, and statistics on how vulnerable communities engage with the internet are not routinely collected and made widely available.
- Newer technologies like fifth generation telecommunications (5G) and cloud computing are on the horizon, but have limited adoption.
Pillar 2: Digital Society, Rights, and Governance
- Significant public sector digital transformation efforts are underway in many countries across the region to digitize public services and enable safe and secure transactions online. While political buy-in is growing, the implementation of policy frameworks and rollout of digital public services is slow.
- Regional leadership and governments are recognizing cybersecurity and cybercrime as policy priorities that support digitalization of public services, protect data systems and reduce vulnerabilities for government and citizens in the region. Implementation has begun on a regional cybersecurity framework and action plan; however, needs for equipment, skilled cybersecurity experts, and continued coordination to update policies in the region persist.
- Few civil society and media organizations have resources to dedicate to emerging digital issues that affect citizen security, such as data protection, digital identity, smart cities and misinformation.
- Data sharing and use of open data to support innovation in key areas, such as resilience, disaster response, agriculture, and tourism face challenges in accessibility of data and capacity for data analysis and use.
Pillar 3: Digital Economy
- FinTech solutions are growing throughout the region, with more than 10 mobile money providers and the world’s first digital currencies, but uptake of DFS remains limited by distrust and digital divides. Navigating the regulatory landscape and accessing financial infrastructure limits FinTech’s ability to improve financial resilience.
- The tech startup community is talented, with potential for enhanced community engagement in local development, but it faces systemic challenges in access to finance, scalability, investor perception, and mentorship networks.
- With a few exceptions, digital skills in the workforce are generally patchy, sometimes expensive, and not highly visible to the market. Traditional pathways from basic education to university do not yet cater to youth seeking careers with digital skills, for example, software development, user design, or cybersecurity.
- Domestic e-commerce is slowly growing, but the region is yet to fully capitalize on cross-border e-commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated e-commerce uptake, but underlying challenges with business and consumer readiness, payment systems, logistics, legislative frameworks, and the regulatory environment hinder further development.