Turks and Caicos: Interview with Mr. Kenva Williams

Mr. Kenva Williams

Director of Technology (TCI Telecommunications Commission)

Mr. Kenva Williams

Being a British Overseas Territory with an independent Government, Turks and Caicos Islands have a unique position in the Caribbean with a GDP per capita of almost 24.000 USD, one of the highest in the Caribbean. However, many countries in the region compete in similar sectors, such as tourism or financial services. What are the main advantages that set the Turks and Caicos Islands apart from the others?

The Turks and Caicos is made up of several islands; this give us an advantage from the perspective of the tourism industry as each island is unique and has something different to offer. We have North Caicos which is considered the farming and the green land of the country. Middle Caicos, which is now linked to North Caicos, offers wide possibilities for activities related to national parks and adventure, and persons traveling on cruise to the port in Grand Turk can enjoy the rich history of that island. Providenciales is known for its luxury resorts and villas and the best beach in the world. As you can see our country is unique because all types of travellers can fit in the Turks and Caicos.

According to the International Monetary Fund, since 2012 the country’s economy maintains a steady growth. What are the reasons behind this economic performance?

From the telecommunications industry perspective, we have contributed to that growth. Everyone that visits Turks and Caicos has access to roaming services, modern technology and access to high quality Wi-Fi connectivity in all the hotels. The first thing that every businessperson looks for when traveling is whether they can keep in touch with their loved ones back home and continue conducting their business.

At the TCI Telecommunications Commission, we have facilitated ‘very small aperture terminal’ (VSAT) companies that provide internet service on yachts and ships while they are in our jurisdiction. Because of these services, the passengers do not have to experience interruption in telecommunication services and it is business as usual for them aboard their vessel.

The telecommunications sector was seriously hit by the global financial crisis. Between 2008 and 2013 the revenues of the industry decreased almost 35%, from 76 million USD to 50 million approximately. What has been the performance of the sector since then?

The revenue stream of the telecommunication’s sector is reduced every year due to the technological developments and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. As an example, services such as WhatsApp, Facetime and skype are overriding the traditional way of telecommunication. The consumers enjoy it as they avoid paying the usual roaming or long distance rate since they can simply make a call over the internet. VoIP services  is  converging technologies and despite the claims of the providers, there is little regulation to combat convergence.

From the perspective of the Commission, our role is to satisfy all entities: the government, the consumer and the provider. If we put strict regulatory measures to prevent VoIP services, the consumer is going to be unhappy.

The Telecommunications Commission was created in 2004 to regulate the market and ensure a fair competition in the industry. Which has been the main resolutions of the Commission since then to guarantee an efficient telecommunications system?

We have developed a very complex market since that year. Prior to 2003, there was a monopoly in Turks and Caicos and the services price was incredibly high. We put an end to this situation by bringing the current legislation and a second player, driving the prices down thanks to the competition between Cable and Wireless-Flow and Digicel. There was a third competitor for a certain period of time, Islandcom, who was the first company to implement 3G and has been acquired by Cable and Wireless-Flow. It was very difficult to maintain a three-player situation in the telecommunication industry taking into consideration the size of the country’s population.

In a previous interview with World Investment News, the Premier Cartwright-Robinson stated that she wants to open the economy for new businesses and make the country a leader in the financial sector. The TCI Telecommunications Commission ensures a competitiveness in the telecommunications market that benefits the consumers. What is the strategy of the Commission to facilitate the business creation?

One of our main goals for the near future is to have  high speed quality broadband services throughout Turks and Caicos. Providenciales is the beneficiary in quality of service as it relates to broadband, but the other islands are suffering of limited bandwidth connectivity because they are not connected with fiber, which entails a challenging infrastructure. Despite one have access to the internet while traveling to those islands, the quality is not as good as we would like.

Therefore, our vision in the near future is to have a fiber-optic network connecting each main island. We do not know yet whether the project will be implemented by the government, a private company or a partnership between both, but the Telecommunications Commission has been tasked by the government to do a consultation on the matter seeking comments and vision of the industry.  

Once the islands are connected there will be increased investment and development opportunities in the other islands. Quality technology will be no longer a concern for investors.

This will also be beneficial to the residence as it will facilitate another main goal: universal healthcare. When you have good technology and high speed broadband, the lead doctor does not need to be in the islands of Turks and Caicos to carry out a surgery. This is a model that works in other countries with operations conducted by video streaming.

That is where technology is heading and where we want to be.

TCI is a small economy that relies on foreign investment, especially from the US. A high developed and effective telecommunications industry is key to attract international investors. How can the Commission show to foreign investors that TCI offers high quality services?

The role of the Telecommunications Commission is to ensure that our international clients have access to the same services and technology that they have in their countries. Turks and Caicos have created a good relationship with international companies to conduct business and the technology has to be great in order to have seamless communication with transnational corporations.

At the regional level, the Telecommunications ministers around the Caribbean are evaluating the future possibilities of traveling around the Caribbean without incurring roaming fees. This is one of the vision that all the regulators in the region are looking at and thinking of how to create a policy that allows it to happen.

Innovation and technology are the core values of HBR, along with education, and the Telecommunications Commission assures that TCI is able to promote the technological development. Which are the main programs that your institution is carrying out?

In other countries around the Caribbean the government promotes technological development   through a separate Information and Communications Technology (ICT) department but In Turks and Caicos this is not the case, so administrations relies heavily on the Commission to, advise the government on the establishment of proper services and ICT projects.

During our tenth-year anniversary we had the opportunity to organize a workshop on applications development and it is a program that we envision to do annually. We have also attended several conferences at the Caribbean Telecommunications Unit (CTU) which is an inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting the development of (ICT) sector across the region.

However, we believe that this sort of education on ICT should be within the government initiatives to empower the local population while the Commission regulate the industry to ensure a fair play among carriers that guarantee a quality service to our citizens.

Harvard Business Review readers include the most influential business leaders and top decision makers around the world. As a conclusion to this interview, what would you like to say about the future development of telecommunications in TCI?

The future of telecommunications in Turks and Caicos is promising, we aspire  to have  seamless high speed broadband through all islands. The citizens that do not live in Providenciales will have access to the same services, likewise the tourists who travel to our islands.

Our vision is that every Turks and Caicos Islands citizens will have available – at reasonable cost and without discrimination – rapid, efficient, national and international telecommunication services.