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Vincentian Internet Pioneer dies in Fiji

Vincentian Internet Pioneer dies in Fiji
Donnie De Freitas

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The man credited with bringing the Internet to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and helping to break the telecommunications monopolies in the OECS has died in Suva, Fiji at the age of 63 years.

Donnie DeFreitas, a former Telecommunications Officer and Deputy Chief Engineer in the Ministry of Communications and Works died in the South Pacific nation on May 22 after falling ill a few days before.

He had been working in the South Pacific as a regulator in the telecommunications sector for the last 10 years, having first been recruited to Samoa where he spent six years, before taking up a position in Fiji as director of the newly established Pacific ICT Regulatory Resource Centre.

A graduate of the University of ISPJAE (Instituto Superior Politecno Jose Antonio Echeveria), Havana Cuba, with a master’s degree in Electronic Engineering, DeFreitas returned to St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1987.

He took up the post of Telecommunications Officer at the Ministry of Communications and Works where he headed the Telecommunications Unit from 1988 to 1994, after which he was promoted to Deputy Chief Engineer, but continued managing the portfolio of telecommunications.

During his time at the Ministry he represented his country at many regional and international telecommunications conferences.

He is considered the person who was directly responsible for bringing the Internet to SVG with the setting up of the first “store and forward” email system for the country in 1994.

It can be easily said that DeFreitas’ biggest impact on SVG and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) region was his role in moving the countries of the OECS from a monopoly telecom space of limited services and high rates to a competitive one that would drive the economic, social, and cultural development of its citizens.

He helped to initiate the development of the World Bank funded OECS Telecom Reform project and in 1998, he was offered the position of Project Manager at the OECS Secretariat in St Lucia. The project was a success and saw monopolies being broken in five OECS countries that were part of the project via the creation of Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) in 2000, which was the first multi-state regulator in the world with harmonized legislation in five independent ECTEL countries.

The year 2003 saw competition in the telecommunications space coming to the five ECTEL countries for the first time bringing affordable services and products.

DeFreitas served as the first Managing Director of ECTEL from 2001 to 2003 then thereafter as the Director of Technical Services in a consultant position from 2003 to 2009 when he left to take up the post of Telecommunications Regulator with the Government of Samoa.

Outside of work, DeFreitas was an avid table tennis player and served as president of the Table Tennis Association and the SVG Olympic Committee. He was also a member of the St Vincent Jaycees.

DeFrietas was cremated on Tuesday in Fiji after a funeral service that was streamed live on YouTube. His ashes will be returned to his homeland.

He is survived by his wife Antonia Wong in Fiji; son Donito DeFreitas in Canada; sisters Peggy and Debbie in St Vincent and Mitzi in the United States, brother Eddie in St Vincent, nieces and nephews and many other relatives and friends.

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