Telecommunications and underdevelopment : a policy analysis of the historical role of Cable and Wireless in the Caribbean
The foundation structures for telecommunications in the English-speaking Caribbean were laid during the period of direct colonial control of the region by Britain. They formed part of the global communications network of a large empire requiring quick and efficient links with a remote imperial Centre. In this thesis, we argue, however, that the Caribbean component of this colonial telecommunications system was designed not just to improve imperial political administration of a distant and scattered region, but even more directly in support of a Nineteenth century drive for increased British private capital accumulation in Central and South America. We indicate that in the process of penetrating the Caribbean territories, the early British multinational telegraph conglomerates received the direct financial and technical support of their British home government, in a meso-corporatist relationship designed to counter both United States and other European competition in the region. The company Cable and Wireless emerged, both as an end-product of this inter-imperialist competition, and as an attempt to rationalize the innovation of wireless telegraphy with the more established cable network interests. Political de-colonization and the growth in the influence of the large colonial Dominions led to a fracturing of the symbiotic relationship between the private telegraph interests and the Imperial state. Nationalization of the industry, which followed, eventually led to more autonomous control by the Dominions over the telecommunications systems within their national territories. This marked the end of the empire-wide remit of the state-owned Cable and Wireless. But we argue that monopoly control over the telecommunications systems of the smaller, less powerful colonies, such as those in the Caribbean, was awarded to the diminished Cable and Wireless as a concession for its loss. However, despite close to three decades since the start of the process of political independence in the region, and early attempts by some governments to gain national control through equity acquisition, the dominance of Cable and Wireless continues to increase. In the last decade, the increase in the company's dominance has been facilitated by Western multilateral lending agencies, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose loan conditions and demands for privatization in the sector have mediated on the side of the entrenched multinational company, in the same way that the British imperial government mediated on its behalf during Colonialism. Rapid technology changes, telecommunications liberalization in the global centres as well as significant weaknesses in Caribbean national and regional policy planning have also worked to the advantage of the company's renewed policy of increased investment and greater control over Caribbean telecommunications decision-making.