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Barbados: E-Commerce


Barbados has been developing an informatics industry over the last 15 years and sees e-commerce as one of its most important future development opportunities, based on the existing pool of skilled labour and advanced infrastructure.

In August, 2000, the Barbadian Government passed an Electronics Transactions Act. The main aim of the new policy was to prepare a legal framework for the recognition of digital transactions and to put them on a legal footing equivalent to that of paper-based transactions. Key areas addressed by the Act are record-keeping, security, and contracts. Amendments will be made to other laws that are affected by the new Bill, such as the Evidence Act and the Interpretation Act, which will incorporate digital documents as well as written.

The Act made Barbados the third Caribbean country (after Bermuda and the Cayman Islands) to possess digital signature legislation. It enables customers to securely enter into digital signature agreements and to accept electronic records and documents. However, notices such as evictions, electricity cut-offs and cessation of health insurances will continue to be paper-based communications.

Plans have also been announced to introduce legislation that would protect consumers' privacy.

In November, 2002, The Central Bank of Barbados unveiled new guidelines for electronic banking, designed - according to Governor, Dr Marion Williams - to provide guidance on the promotion of secure online banking activities, while at the same time maintaining the flexibility to accommodate future technologies. Dr Williams revealed that the Central Bank had been working with commercial banks in the jurisdiction over the previous year, in order to develop suitable ways in which to advance electronic banking in Barbados. "What we have done here is to provide general guidelines so that they can choose what kind of system they want," she explained, adding that: "The guidelines are general since the Central Bank of Barbados is of the view that setting too detailed requirements in the area of electronic banking could lead to their becoming rapidly outdated."

However the Bank's report revealed that the jurisdiction was not quite ready for the widespread introduction of internet banking services, suggesting that it may be a further two to three years before local commercial banks are ready for retail e-banking, arguing that: "A further education of both the private and public sector on the benefits of using some of these more 'sophisticated' banking services may be warranted before there can be a surge in the use of electronic banking, or before there is a general acceptance of electronic banking."

The Electronic Banking Guidelines also observed a certain lack of interest in the provision of e-commerce facilities by the Barbadian private sector: "Most commercial entities in Barbados have not effectively acknowledged the need for e-commerce and, in some cases, may have determined it is not cost-effective to offer such services," the Central Bank revealed.

In January, 2005, FirstCaribbean International Bank claimed to be the first bank to launch internet and telephone banking services to its customers across all the countries in its network. The services give all FirstCaribbean customers the ability to view their balances across all types of accounts, including chequing, savings, loans and time deposits, in any location across the bank's regional network.

Part-owned by Barclays Bank PLC, the bank has an asset base worth some US$9 billion, and operates in 26 Caribbean islands including Anguilla, Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, The British Virgin Islands, The Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent and the Grenadines and The Turks & Caicos Islands.

The bank has invested $50 million in a state-of-the-art technology platform and was planning to be able to offer internet and telephone service wire transfers and bill payments later in 2005.

In August 2007, the Barbados Telecommunications Unit published the country's new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Policy, which described the terms and outlines the techniques involved in VoIP technologies, as well as defining the conditions for use in the country, as set out by the Telecommunications Unit in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development.

Setting out the regulatory framework for the operation of VoIP in Barbados, the Telecommunications Unit said that "it is incumbent on regulators and policy makers to ensure that there is a market place which provides the greatest consumer choice, quality and protection, while at the same time ensuring the opportunity for operators, small or large, to work in a fair competitive environment and have the opportunity to achieve a reasonable rate of return on investments, innovations and efficiencies".

The regulatory framework takes a "technology neutral" position, encouraging service and equipment providers to innovate, using the best technologies available as they evolve. The framework also aims to be “light-handed”, and will be reviewed as required as VoIP technologies and services, and the marketplace, evolve over time.

In 2008, it was announced that the Government of Barbados, through the Telecommunications Unit and with agreement of Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Ltd, would take over the Administration of the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) .bb from 18 February 2008.



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