In 2010, telecommunications, in Grenada, in St. Lucia, and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was characterized by low bandwidth, high prices, and poor service quality due to a reliance on legacy copper networks. There were also several large coverage gaps. Governments were often paying high prices for obsolete services and equipment, and citizens had to deal with substandard services and limited access to global networks.
As a consequence, schools in Grenada and Saint Lucia had serious network capacity problems. Many had limited internet connection to support up to a thousand students per school. Weak connections made the service so slow that it was often unusable. In addition, the existing mobile carriers did not have sufficient capacity to offer 4G mobile services, a critical building block for online education initiatives, which had become critical after COVID-19 pandemic.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were becoming uncompetitive in the tourism industry due to slow speed internet services. Residents also faced a severe digital divide, meaning unequal access to broadband services.
The three governments recognized that an advanced, safe, affordable, and reliable access to digital services was essential for economic growth. They opted to jointly pursue high quality fiber optic networks for their countries to be able to provide adequate digital public services, as well as digital content and internet services for the education community, including Government Wide Area Networks (GWANs) – internal networks connecting all government offices through fiber optics to high quality internet, Education networks, and a subsea cable.
To increase access to regional broadband networks and advance the development of an Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-enabled services industry in the Caribbean, CARCIP introduced an innovative contracting process. The resulting PPP (Public Private Partnership) structure was a first for developing digital infrastructure in the region. It was also the first of its magnitude, leveraging approximately $45 million from governments and private partners.
The innovative joint tender by three countries for wide-ranging digital infrastructure investments included deployment of the digital infrastructure, the upfront transfer of the GWAN assets to the governments, and service provision over a 15-year service period, under a PPP model.
The unique contracting approach allowed all three governments to obtain substantial economies of scale, allowing lower pricing and better quality of service than if they had purchased the networks separately. In addition, the governments will own the GWAN networks upon completion, guaranteeing access to significant capacity.
The approach taken by CARCIP was well aligned with the Maximizing and Mobilizing Finance for Development approach, which entails working with governments to crowd in the private sector while optimizing the use of scarce public resources.