Trinidad and Tobago can take credit for travelling a good way along the road to digital transformation, even if there is much further still to go
WORDS By: Tracy Hackshaw
ICT and Digital Economy Strategist; Chair, Internet Society, Trinidad and Tobago Chapter
Published in CONTACT Magazine
How is Trinidad & Tobago faring on its digital journey?
Let’s take a look at some hard data, as presented in the most recent comprehensive analysis of Trinidad and Tobago’s digital footprint.
The digital landscape
Our internet penetration has reached 1 million (or 73 per cent of the population), up 6 per cent (59,000 people) over 2017. Our social media activity rate is 58 per cent (or 0.8 million people), with mobile social penetration at a startling 51 per cent (or 0.7 million people). The now relatively useless metric of mobile penetration remains at a relatively high 136 per cent (1.87 million connections).
While social media usage is high, the real story is the number of users accessing social media on mobile devices (700,000 of the total number of 800,000, and 51 per cent of the population).
Also interesting is the spread of internet users across devices – 41 per cent on mobile (up 38 per cent year-on-year) compared with 49 per cent (down year-on-year) on laptops and desktops.
But while the access situation is fairly healthy, digital commerce is less so. Digital commerce on the internet – mobile or otherwise – is driven by the level of digital financial inclusion, and there are fundamental gaps there. While 76 per cent of the population have a bank account, and presumably a debit card, only 15 per cent have a credit card.
Coupled with an underdeveloped electronic payments environment, this has led to the development of creative solutions to facilitate electronic transactions; as a result, received foreign exchange is being “trapped” in expensive credit card facilities or in overseas bank accounts. A significant percentage of these receipts cannot be repatriated to Trinidad and Tobago. Instead of the positive disruption that a robust electronic/mobile payments process would normally produce, we are seeing negative distortions.
Simon Fraser, Lecturer in Management Information Systems at The University of the West Indies, suggests that “the success of traditional measures might be acting as inhibitors to uptake on newer systems.”
Trinidad and Tobago shows clear early signs of readiness to participate in the global digital economy, including a relatively robust telecommunications environment.
Submarine cable mapping authorities chart six major international submarine cable landings, and one between Trinidad and Tobago, allowing significant internet bandwidth.
Two internet exchange points (IXPs), run by the Trinidad and Tobago Internet Exchange Company Ltd. (TTIX), are located in north and south Trinidad. There are two domain name system (DNS) root servers and two major global content caching services. Both mobile carriers  have implemented 4G LTE networks, and one carrier is proposing to roll out WTTx to facilitate LTE speeds and broadband access in rural areas.
Five known data centres have been established: Fujitsu (North), TSTT (East), C&W Communications (Central), Digicel (Central), and Airlink (South). Two are fully carrier-neutral. A sixth centre is planned for Tobago.
Upload and download speeds
Based on data compiled by Michele Marius of ICT Pulse, as of May 2018, Trinidad and Tobago is ranked second in the Caribbean for fixed upload speeds, at 18.72 Mbps, an increase of 3.35 Mbps over 2017. Our global ranking is 43.
This compares with Barbados, ranked first in the Caribbean and 22nd in the world at 32.09 Mbps, a rise of 10 Mbps; and Jamaica, third in the Caribbean and 79th in the world, with upload speeds in excess of 10.35 Mbps.
Averaged across the Caribbean countries examined, upload speeds increased by around 45 per cent, or approximately 3.1 Mbps, in 2017-18, from around 7.8 Mbps in July 2017 to 10.9 Mbps in May 2018.
According to Marius, in most countries examined, download speeds were at least twice the upload speed. The exceptions were Jamaica and Belize, where the ratio of upload to download speed was 1:1.90 for Jamaica and 1:1.26 for Belize.
In terms of pricing and affordability, Marius’s research found that only Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados offered 1 Gbps residential internet packages (priced monthly at US$282.02 and $297.50 respectively). But, applying a monthly threshold of US$60, the best value was found in Barbados, where for US$60.00 per month a plan with an advertised download speed of up to 240 Mbps was available. The next fastest plans at US$60 or under, 100 Mbps and 75 Mbps, were found in Aruba and Trinidad and Tobago, at approximately US$55.30 and US$59.26 respectively.
There is a relatively small but quickly growing internet entrepreneurship sector, with specific e-business pure plays like TriniTrolley, HubBox, D’Market Movers, ChefMade, DropTaxi, and Ticktr; intermediaries like WiPay, Paywise and WebGold; and e-commerce extensions of traditional businesses like Courts, Excellent Stores, Sports & Games, Digicel, bmobile, and companies focused on the country’s massive cultural industry, local and overseas – Tribe/Ultimate Events, Island E-Tickets, TriniJungleJuice, and others.
The public sector
Despite the ongoing economic challenges facing the government, the public sector has been some progress.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has steadily developed the TTBizLink Single Electronic Window (SEW) for trade facilitation. This represents collaboration between 24 unique agencies from seven ministries, together with the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC). Through the modules available on TTBizLink, 47 e-applications are available which are currently being used by over 7,200 registered users.
TTBizLink will seek to add 16 more e-services, including the ability to file annual returns to the Companies Registry online rather than using the current manual process.
Implementation is financed through a US$25 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) signed in 2016.
Several ICT-related consultancies have been put out for tender or are already being executed, including the recent automation of the construction permitting system (ConstrucTT), coupled with digitisation of key Town & Country Planning Division records.
The TTBizLink project is financing the outstanding regulatory items to allow the government (specifically the Treasury Division and the revenue-receiving agencies) to conduct electronic gransactions with its various stakeholders, using the most prevalent forms of electronic payment available locally.
 “We Are Social – Digital Report 2018.” Accessed June 25, 2018. digitalreport.wearesocial.com.
 “Submarine Cable Map.” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://www.submarinecablemap.com/.
 “TTIX2 is born! – Trinidad and Tobago Internet Exchange Limited.” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://ix.tt/ttix2-is-born/.
 “Trinidad Root Servers Live! – Trinidad and Tobago Internet Exchange ….” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://ix.tt/trinidad-root-servers-live/.
 “Cache services live at TTIX – Trinidad and Tobago Internet Exchange ….” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://ix.tt/cache-services-now-live-at-ttix/.
 “Digicel promises LTE for mid-year deployment – Tech News TT.” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://technewstt.com/pr-digicel-lte/.
 “bmobile announces increased LTE coverage – Tech News TT.” Accessed June 25, 2018. https://technewstt.com/pr-bmobile-4glte-update/
 “TSTT reaches into rural homes with WTTx | The Trinidad Guardian ….” Accessed June 25, 2018. http://www.guardian.co.tt/business-guardian/2018-06-21/tstt-reaches-rural-homes-wttx.
 “Snapshot: actual Internet upload speeds from across the … – ICT Pulse.” Accessed June 25, 2018. http://www.ict-pulse.com/2018/06/snapshot-actual-internet-upload-speeds-caribbean-2018/.
 “Snapshot: 2018 update of Internet speeds and pricing … – ICT Pulse.” Accessed June 25, 2018. http://www.ict-pulse.com/2018/05/snapshot-2018-update-internet-speeds-pricing-caribbean/.