Ambassador Lynch Delivers Remarks at 36th Annual CANTO Conference and Trade Exhibition

Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
36th Annual CANTO Conference and Trade Exhibition
July 30, 2021

Ms. Teresa Wankin, Canto’s Secretary General,
Members of the private sector,
Members of the media,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I address you all today, in celebration of the 36th annual CANTO conference and trade exhibition, on the opportunities and challenges in the digital space as we continue to grapple with the pandemic.  Holding this event virtually does not mean there is less work involved. I’m sure it’s been an all-hands-on deck production, and I want to thank you for including me.

This pandemic has heightened our awareness for how integrally we depend on telecommunications, the internet, and the digital space writ large in our daily lives: they help us do business, receive an education, and connect with friends and family, among many other things.  Such powerful tools raise some key questions: How do we access them? Who owns them? What about freedom of expression and usage? These broad questions should lead us to discuss how these systems are governed and regulated.

A smart regulatory framework that is created with input from multiple stakeholders is necessary for advancing dynamic public policies in internet governance. Over half the world is connected to the internet today, using billions of devices. Together, that connectivity holds the potential to lift people out of poverty, formalize the informal economy around the world, increase the efficiency of supply chains, increase the productivity and wages of workers, improve education, and make possible activities that we have not even dreamed up yet. At the heart of this growth has been the multistakeholder approach to internet governance, which includes the participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, and academia.  This governance is characterized by transparent, inclusive, bottom-up, and consensus-driven processes for examining and addressing questions and constructing policies on internet issues.

Key multistakeholder organizations such as the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the World Wide Web Consortium (WWWC), and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), work together to facilitate the internet’s daily operations.  These organizations support the development of technical standards, so the internet remains flexible and free.  This network of entities and organizations has proven capable of solving technical and policy problems with the speed and flexibility required to address complex issues, including data privacy, data protection, intellectual property, and taxation.

The United States supports this cooperative, multistakeholder approach to energize a vibrant digital economy worldwide.  And one of the most exciting developments to the digital economy is 5G wireless networks.  5G is transformative and will touch every aspect of our lives, including critical infrastructure such as transportation, electrical distribution, healthcare and public health, and much, much more.  Therefore, the stakes for securing these networks could not be higher. We welcome collaboration with partners and allies to ensure our shared security in a 5G future.

The U.S. Government recognizes that many network operators face limited options when selecting legacy vendors to develop and deploy 5G and earlier generation wireless networks.  Limited competition in the telecommunications infrastructure market can reduce supply chain resilience and contribute to higher prices for operators and consumers in the long run. Advances in network technology and open radio access networks, often called open RAN, offer the promise of a future with a variety of software and hardware vendors and the ability for operators to disaggregate their networks between multiple vendors using open interfaces.

The U.S. Government fully supports industry’s development of open, interoperable networks while recognizing the importance of maintaining a full suite of solutions offered by incumbent trusted vendors. This would increase competition and provide network operators with additional options when purchasing network equipment and services from trusted vendors.  We need to unleash the innovative power of the private sector and competition to develop more secure, robust, resilient, and affordable networks that enhance our national security, build economic prosperity, and connect more of our citizens to the internet. And we aren’t alone. Lower barriers to entry in the telecommunications equipment market would also unlock economic opportunities for innovative SMEs and entrepreneurs around the world. And we recognize that this effort should be industry-led. That said, the U.S. Government can play a role to promote the transition to open networks and to ensure potential national security concerns are addressed.

Each country must make its own decision about its national and economic security.  Likewise, the United States must and will protect its own information and networks.  Should a country allow untrustworthy, high-risk suppliers and vendors into its 5G networks, the United States would have to reassess how it interconnects and shares information with that country.  The United States is deeply concerned about the dangers of installing networks with equipment that can be manipulated, disrupted, or controlled by entities which have no regard for human rights or privacy.

Governments, telecom operators, and network users should prioritize security when building out their 5G networks.  National measures must be crafted to fully exclude untrustworthy and high-risk suppliers, regardless of national origin, from providing equipment and software in 5G networks.

Later this year, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is undertaking a deep-dive assessment of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean’s regional digital ecosystem. The assessment will cover topics such as digital infrastructure and adoption; how digital technology intersects with the media, civil society, and government, with a special focus on cybersecurity; and the role digital technology plays in increasing economic opportunity and efficiency, trade and competitiveness, and global economic integration. The regional digital ecosystem assessment will help Eastern and Southern Caribbean countries strengthen inclusiveness and security of country digital ecosystems. The information will also help the U.S. government better accompany and support countries in this endeavor.

As U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, I frequently meet with officials here who are well aware of the economic and social transformation that a knowledge-based society can provide.  For example, I often speak with the Prime Minister, whose portfolio includes telecommunications, to discuss potential U.S. assistance to strengthen the country’s Telecommunications Agency.  Working with the Department of State’s Office of Communication and Information Policy, we can help Guyana strengthen the country’s regulatory systems.  Such assistance would ensure the use of trusted vendors, facilitate liberalization, and increase competition to improve services and decrease prices.  Also, I have met numerous times with the leadership of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph, a key private sector player in the telecommunication space, and supported their efforts to build a world class training center for employees.  From a job-creation standpoint, the Government of Guyana has made public statements on the need to better prepare its workforce for digital professions. I want to highlight that of the 5100 people who are currently in the ICT sector, the majority are women.

And that is really what is needed to make the jump to a digitalized economy, and perhaps one of the greatest opportunities lying before us in the digital space. Investment in people. From trained technicians to programmers, from digital literacy programs for grade school students, to programs for the elderly so they can pay their electric bill on their phone, the digital revolution will only happen when the government, private sector, and civil society work together harmoniously, both in Guyana and the Caribbean writ large, to achieve a higher level of development. There are skilled members of the Caribbean diaspora who can assist, and of course the United States wants to be a part of the solution. There are U.S. companies waiting to come to the region and offer their equipment and expertise to build the next generation of telecommunication practitioners.  The United States wants to be the region’s partner of choice when it comes to digital security, competition that raises quality and lowers prices, and robust regulatory frameworks.  And that is a real opportunity for everyone.

Thank you inviting me today, and I wish you a successful rest of the conference.