Disrupting National Infrastructures: Satellite Television, Informal Trade, and Suitcase Entrepreneurs in the Caribbean in the 1980s

In the United States, amateur experiments with satellite television reception created a business that extended from rural areas in the United States to different countries worldwide. In their expansion to the Caribbean and Central and South America, early satellite dishes encountered an unrestricted environment for their adoption, despite legal ambiguities about their use. In this presentation, I explore the role of informal trade in the Caribbean in the emergence of satellite television providers as a business in the region. Grounded in early cable television (CATV) entrepreneurship, amateur magazines collected stories of satellite dishes experiments, showing a network that supported the circulation of electronic parts, antennas, and knowledge. In Belize, these systems became the first attempts to build a national television, while in other countries, they challenged the existing infrastructure. As entrepreneurs played a role in developing free trade policies in the Caribbean, I argue that "satellite-innovators" identified a business opportunity in challenging media distribution systems in the region, as they consider technologies as agents of cultural changes. As exchanges happened through informal trade, this case contributes to studying small businesses' emergence in the region.