A recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) gap development analysis, which measures the difference in standards throughout the region, has found several infrastructural deficiencies in The Bahamas surrounding telecommunications and digital adoption, energy, transport and water.
The findings, contained in the recently released Caribbean Quarterly Economic Bulletin, point out that deficiencies were also found in environmental performance, education, governance and the business environment, economic complexity, health, small and medium-sized enterprises and financial inclusion, according to the 2021 development gaps index.
“Closing the gap in infrastructure is essential, as energy, telecommunications, transport and water and sanitation are key enablers of the production of other goods and services and will also help narrow the gap in the remaining areas for development,” the IDB states in its report.
Addressing each deficiency specifically, the IDB noted of telecommunications, “Although the telecommunications infrastructure in The Bahamas is ample and reaches a large share of the population, compared to other Caribbean countries, both mobile and fixed broadband access are more costly and average connection speeds are slower.”
Still, it pointed to “remarkable” mobile broadband 4G coverage, which reaches 99 percent of the population and is higher than the average for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (98 percent).
“However, regarding access, there are 61 mobile and 23 fixed broadband lines per 100 people in The Bahamas, above the average for the Caribbean but below OECD levels. In The Bahamas, 71 percent of households have at least one personal computer and 66 percent have internet access, while in the Caribbean these shares are 51 percent and 55 percent, respectively. In the OECD they are higher, at 83 percent and 78 percent, respectively. One factor that could hinder further adoption is that costs are high,” the report notes.
“The monthly fee for a fixed broadband connection in The Bahamas is five percent above the Caribbean average and 113 percent above the OECD average, while for a mobile broadband connection the fees are 54 percent and 24 percent higher, respectively. Finally, it is worth noting that improvements in connection speeds could be beneficial. Although average broadband speeds in The Bahamas are only slightly below the Caribbean average, they are close to half the mobile broadband speed in the OECD and close to a third of that in the OECD for fixed broadband. Overall, in The Bahamas 80 percent of the population uses the Internet, in line with the OECD average of 83 percent and above the Caribbean average of 60 percent.”
Highlighting the recent push by the government to make many of its services digital, the IDB estimated that a $30.7 million investment would be needed to close the gap with OECD averages.
“Improving the telecommunications infrastructure as well as digital adoption in The Bahamas will help reduce gaps in other key areas such as governance and the business environment, SMEs and financial inclusion and education and health, among others. Greater access to physical devices with internet connectivity and to digital tools has a direct impact on productivity and efficiency,” the report notes.
“For example, administrative processes with the government, such as requesting permits or submitting payments, can take a fraction of the time that in-person transactions take. SMEs can promote their businesses, reach more customers, or accept digital payments. Educational services can reach students in isolated areas and better provide continuing education and training for adults. Telemedicine can help address minor health concerns without the need to go to a healthcare facility. Given that the potential benefits outweigh costs, closing the gap and maintaining an adequate digital infrastructure, as well as providing broad access, should be a priority for The Bahamas.”
Regarding deficiencies in electricity, water and sanitation and transportation, the IDB stated that challenges persist.
Specifically regarding energy, the IDB noted that high electricity costs and low reliability and service quality negatively impact the competitiveness of the productive sector.
“According to Compete Caribbean’s latest ProteqIN survey in 2021, 83 percent of the surveyed companies in The Bahamas reported suffering from power interruptions. In a typical month they experienced on average 2.5 outages that lasted 2.7 hours,” the report states.
As for water and sanitation, the IDB highlighted the significant portion of the population (approximately 50 percent) that depend on private water and sanitation systems or wells.
The IDB also pointed to the lack of good inter-island connectivity, particularly impacting more remote islands, as the main factor in the transportation gap.
“There are 53 licensed airports (28 government-owned and operated), air connectivity is comprehensive but outdated and inadequate infrastructure makes transportation inefficient,” the IDB stated.
“A project supported by a US$35 million IDB loan approved in 2017 and currently in implementation aims to improve air transport connectivity and the flow of people in the Family Islands. Maritime transport also requires modernization, as ports and shipping facilities are outdated and inefficient.”