Claro que Si!
It is the early hours shortly before dawn in (insert war torn country name here), as daylight slowly filters in the scene unfolding.........Several generations of Caribbean people will recognise this opening. Many stories on the BBC began this way, in fact, so much so that you could easily believe that all their stories were posted in the wee hours of the morning. For years, the BBC remained The news organisation, not only for their high standard of journalism, but also, their familiarity, a lingering connection with our colonial heritage that is now, a distant fifty years past.
It took the advent of CNN, Fox and Sky TV to change the way news was delivered throughout the world. Until Ted Turner launched CNN in June 1980, we were unaware that the hour had a top and bottom. All too quickly the ten second soundbite became a staple, news anchors became "sexy" and the digital age was born. News purveyors quickly understood, keep up or get out of the race but these changes were not confined to the news. The internet, shrinking micro processing chips and a host of other developments ushered in the new age of gadgetry and communications. Everything became quicker, faster, more, well, shiny.
As Caribbean governments struggle to reinvent themselves in a world where sweeping changes take place on a daily basis, the impetus to upgrade dated systems and provide superior living conditions grows more urgent. In Trinidad, we are largely failing. While technology has been adopted at a rate, it is strangely superimposed on old systems and processes as people seem loath to remove the things that do not work, whether through sentimentality, apathy or for darker more complex reasons. Trinidad and Tobago boasts a high per capita number of people who have tertiary education. Masters degrees almost grow on trees, the evidence points to a lack of will to apply techniques learnt in a classroom in real world applications. Leading to the thought, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
Case in point TSTT, the national telecommunications agency jointly owned by the Government and Cable and Wireless. This is a company that went from a waiting list for phones that spanned lifetimes to being a corporate entity characterised by slick stores, soca star advertising, new products etc. But go into one of those slick stores and you are treated to long lines, a cumbersome ticketing system that promotes inequality of service and long wait times and sometimes, indifferent staff in need of customer service training. These grouses are not limited to TSTT of course, you'll find this in most businesses in the country.
Even the advent of Digicel, though a large player in the game, still did not engender real change. Real change will come when the Government either realises or is pushed to realise that it is the 21st century. Gone are the days when they needed to provide all utilities because no one else would. In most first world countries utilities are provided by private companies who pay hefty license fees and corporate taxes with little burden to the taxpayer. In a country like Trinidad and Tobago where options for competition are limited by geography, the Government as a regulator becomes more important. And that is the role of the Government, to be a regulator, legislator and to provide sound governance structures rather than engaging in retail and thereby competing with the very entities that they are regulating. In fact, one must wonder if the Government is a competitor in the field, how can they also be an impartial regulator. Food for thought eh.
Rumour on the ground has it that South American giant Claro Americas, one of the four largest telecomms networks in the world with over 200 million customers, is going to be the third player in the local market. And it will be duly instructive because they have money, resources, satellites and first world systems, they understand true competition with over 200 million existing consumers. Country pride loyalty be dammed. If they are offering a system that works consistently with fewer outages, faster connectivity, access to new products and better customer service you better believe a lot more people will be saying, "Claro que si!" the minute they open their doors.