Telecoms & IT

Connecting the People

Telecoms & IT

As the Dominican Republic establishes itself as the undisputed leader of ICT and innovation in the Caribbean, it is taking steps to ensure that social inclusion is not forgotten or ignored and to guarantee that everyone has the opportunity to take his or her place in the new information economy.

In recent years, the Dominican Republic, through both public and private channels, has increased the amount of investment focused on ICT infrastructure, inaugurating a variety of programs aimed at spurring development. With an impressive amount of currently existing infrastructure, such as the Network Access Point of the Caribbean, a major linkage in the regions data movement systems, the DR has the potential to take what was already a regionally dominant system and turn it into a world-class operation.

According to the Central Bank, the transportation and communication industry employs nearly 319,000 Dominicans, employment figures that are behind only agriculture, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade. According to the Dominican Republic’s Export and Investment Center, the Dominican Republic received USD16.6 billion worth of foreign investment over the last eight years, USD1.2 billion (7.4%) of which was directed toward telecommunications. The country boasts five fixed-service providers, eight internet providers—spanning ADSL, cable modem, Wimax, 3G and 4G—and four mobile operators. The major firms operating the space are Altice, which recently acquired Orange Dominicana and Tricom, Viva/Aster Claro, and Wind Telecom. Claro dominates both the wireless and fixed lines market, accounting for nearly 50% of the former and 80% of the later, and Atlice’s Orange/Tricom accounts for around 40%. Orange/Tricom leads the market in terms of Cable TV, though Claro and Wind Telecom have recently been making strides, according to the Canadian Trade Commission. Though plans are in the works to transition the DR’s radio and television stations to a digital format, delays have plagued the process and it is unclear when the transition will be made. In 2014, the government announced plans to lay extensive fiber-optic cable infrastructure, though serious progress has yet to be made. The most recently available statistics form the DR’s National Accounts and Economic Statistics Department indicate that the communications industry accounts for roughly 2.6% of GDP and contributes, on average, DOP37 billion to GDP every quarter.

One of the core governmental bodies tasked with directing the Dominican Republic’s ICT industry is the Presidential Office for Information and Communication Technologies (OPTIC). OPTIC is focused on ensuring that the Dominican Republic’s technology ecosystem is made available to and benefits as many citizens as possible. Accordingly, OPTIC works with industry leaders and other governmental institutions to make sure technological development is progressing in a sustainable, efficient, and democratic way, helping craft presidential and governmental policy so the interests of all Dominicans are better served. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Armando Garcia, Director of OPTIC, explained the office’s goals and aspirations. “In the medium term, we are going to create the full field of conditions necessary to reach all citizens, bridging the gap between the most tech savvy citizens and the least,” said Garcia. “The main long term goal is to bring technology to every Dominican citizen, giving each one the resources to access every governmental institution and thereby improving his or her life.”

According to the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Index, the Dominican Republic improved in certain key areas compared to last year’s rankings. In the categories of overall technological readiness, firm-level technology absorption, FDI and technology transfer, and percentage of internet users, the Dominican Republic improved from 84th, 75th, 45th, and 68%, respectively, in 2015-2016 to 79th, 59th, 41st, and 74%, respectively, in 2016-2017. In the remaining categories, the Dominican Republic was a leader in the Caribbean, ranking 64th in the availability of latest technologies, 80th in fixed-broadband subscriptions, 73rd in internet bandwidth, and 87th in mobile-broadband subscriptions. The country has also improved in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index, a holistic 10-pillar measure of a country’s ICT landscape: in the political and regulatory environment subindex the DR ranked 100th; in business and innovation environment, 69th; in infrastructure and digital content, 85th; affordability, 106th; skills, 104th; individual usage, 95th; business usage, 88th; government usage, 95; economic impacts, 68th; and social impacts, 94th. A combination of government investment and programs and private industry initiatives have led to a substantial increase in the depth and quality of the island’s ICT infrastructure and integration, and both the public and private spheres are confident that more progress will be made in the near future.

Telecoms firms are excited about the potential in Dominican Republic, and they are investing accordingly. Altice recently announced a USD138 million plan to upgrade its network in the Dominican Republic, and in an exclusive interview with TBY, Martin Roos, CEO, outlined the company’s far-reaching plans for the investment. “One of the focuses of this investment has been to lay more fiber optics—in 2016 alone we will outfit almost 200,000 homes,” said Roos. “The other major driver of this investment is extending coverage and capacity on our mobile network. This includes the unveiling of 3G and 4G in order to reach a greater part of the island.” Part of the firm’s strategic mission for 2016 was the introduction of smartphones that retail for less than USD30, a goal which they achieved. This low price-point phone opens up the internet to a huge portion of the population that was previously without access. “We are proud of this achievement because it represents a huge step towards true information democratization.” This information democratization is particularly relevant in a country like the Dominican Republic, where large wealth disparities exist and access to technology has been impossible. According to the GSM Association, an international trade group representing mobile providers, the cost of mobile ownership to the top 20% of earners in the country is 3% of their annual income, while the cost to the bottom 40% is a whopping 23% of their annual income. Lower price point telephones and smartphones are a key part of ensuring that every citizen is given the opportunity to participate in digital age.

Opportunities for technologically oriented entrepreneurs are developing in key parts of the DR, and the Santo Domingo Cyber Park is one such place. The park’s goal is to create an environment that can foster and catalyze development in the industry, bringing investment and creating homegrown value right there in Santo Domingo. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Eddy Martinez, President of Santo Domingo Cyber Park, explained that the park’s “value proposition is predicated on expanding the universe of IT and the number of startups in the Dominican Republic.” By creating an environment that fosters transformation, collaboration and commerce, the park has been able to play a leading role in the development of the country’s communications sector. The park currently hosts more than 20 firms, has over 2,000 employees working on the campus and new startups in 2016. “We have played a major role in building the national ecosystem for innovation and become the epicenter of IT development for the country, which is why many people are calling it the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean,” said Martinez. “This is where things happen.”

Republic Digital

In an effort achieve the dream of revolutionizing the Dominican Republic’s technological landscape—both social and economic—President Danilo Medina launched the República Digital program. The initiative aims to bring more Dominicans online while stimulating the domestic ICT industry in such a way that the DR can become a key regional player in cutting edge technology development. According to DominicanToday, the program plans to disperse more than 1 million computers to students and teachers while simultaneously training them on their proper use. Additionally, more than 500km of fiber-optic cable will be laid, greatly improving the communication infrastructure and extending it to parts of the island that were previously underserved. The program will develop a network that had greater degrees of transparency, more responsive procedures, improved end-user interfaces and less cumbersome restrictions for entrepreneurs and innovators, according to President Medina.

Many in the country expect these programs to spark a renaissance in the DR’s digital economy, spurring more growth and adding diversification to the country’s economic foundation. In an exclusive interview with TBY, Herbert Lewy, Country Manager for Microsoft, described the vital importance of the República Digital program and the way private industry can support and augment the government’s efforts. According to Lewy, Microsoft is trying to support each of the program’s four pillars—access, education, public productivity, and transparent government—by lending its resources and technological know-how to different programs across the country. “It is the best possible scenario when the private and public sector generate synergy to provide real value to the citizens of a country,” said Lewy. The array of programs being implemented by the government and supported by private firms allow Dominicans to interact with forms of technology previously unavailable to them, strengthening their competencies in areas of ICT that have and will continue to define modern economies. “The idea at the end of the day is to build a more knowledge-based society and economy.”

With impressive and much needed steps being taken in nearly every aspect of the ICT industry, the Dominican Republic is poised to become the dominant IT leader in the Caribbean region. As the economy continues to grow, the demand for ICT services and devices is likely to expand, further stimulating the industry. By connecting the entire country, private industry and government can help spark a new dawn of innovation and productivity, bringing every Dominican into the knowledge economy.

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