We typically get in trouble for criticising the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA). Defenders cloak themselves in the garb of patriotic protectionism and shield the company from anyone who dares say anything that is deemed negative. The general retort, no matter the criticism is, “yeah, but it is ours.” Antigua and Barbuda is indeed in a fairly unique position as it relates to owning its own utility company. Good or bad, that situation does not seem likely to change any time soon because the current administration is more inclined to bring more entities under government ownership and control than the other way around.
This, however, is not a commentary on whether that is a good strategy or not, rather, this is our take on how a government-owned entity, like APUA, should service the people. And perhaps you are wondering what caused APUA to jump into our minds. It was the interview with Cleveland Sam, the assistant registrar for Public Information and Public Service, relating to the electronic administration of tests by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC). Mr. Sam indicated that due to low bandwidth and poor internet connectivity, CXC will be doing e-testing, not online testing.
We have heard so much about APUA’s capabilities and unique advantages to bring high-speed Internet to practically anywhere in the country, yet the CXC online testing has failed to pass the minimum requirements. Is this a case of being able to deliver anywhere but the schools? There was such a big hullabaloo made about APUA providing the best Internet and being the only carrier to be able to provide true high-speed Internet via their monopoly wireline infrastructure on fibre optics, yet our schools have to resort to using jump drives or uploading when the Internet is available. In 2018, we must do better than this. Even if the CXC is not ready, we should be.
Access to affordable high-speed Internet services is no longer a luxury. Today, the Internet has become a basic necessity. It falls firmly into the scope of APUA’s marketing tagline, “Necessary …. for Life.” We know, there are many things that fall under APUA’s scope of responsibilities that are basic necessities and which have not yet been perfected. Some people may scoff at our suggestion and say “Me cyarh get reliable warta and you want hi-speed Internet?” but that does not mean it is not a necessity. We also know that many people will also say that the Internet is not necessary for life but with the global trends in life and business, we all better get on board with the fact that access to the connected world is one of the key contributors to progress. And if we want to be an ‘economic powerhouse,’ then we better get connected – quick, fast and in a hurry!
If you want an idea of how far ahead some places are with regard to this type of thinking, we will give you a couple of references. Nine years ago, in June 2009, France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, declared that access to the Internet is a basic human right.
The decision struck down portions of a law that would have given authorities the right to cut off network access to individuals who continued to download illicit material after two warnings – all without judicial review. That was almost a decade ago. A year later, in Costa Rica, the Supreme Court ruled “Without fear of equivocation, it can be said that these technologies [information technology and communication] have impacted the way humans
communicate, facilitating the connection between people and institutions worldwide, and eliminating barriers of space and time. At this time, access to these technologies becomes a basic tool to facilitate the exercise of fundamental rights and democratic participation (e-democracy) and citizen control, education, freedom of thought and expression, access to information and public services online, the right to communicate with government electronically and administrative transparency, among others. This includes the fundamental right of access to these technologies, in particular, the right of access to the Internet or World Wide Web.”
That is powerful stuff and while we can all quibble about what constitutes “access,” logic and practicality tells us that the usefulness of the Internet is directly proportional to the speed at which you can gain access.
That brings us full circle to APUA, the government and the basic need of our education system for quality and reliable access to the internet. As APUA maintains it monopoly on the wireline infrastructure, it has a responsibility to ensure that it exercises that responsibility in the best interest of the people. It cannot be argued that depriving our schools of high-speed Internet is in our country’s best interest.
We note that the Costa Rican Supreme Court made specific mention of education in its ruling. To paraphrase, the Court stated, “access to these technologies becomes a basic tool to facilitate … education…” So, we hope that the government and APUA will recognise that there is a basic need and right to Internet access in our schools, and plans to facilitate that access should be established and executed with priority status.