Broadband in the Andes: Alternatives to the free-market model

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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 16 July 2009 (APCNews)

Internet in PeruInternet in PeruAfter the wave of neo-liberal policies during the 90s, the Andean region has seen important changes. The State played a larger role and the telecommunications policies that were put in place reflected this change. Under these new circumstances, broadband plays a critical role in the social and economic development of the region and its people. In order to better understand the new opportunities and challenges that are emerging as a result of the current political and economic landscape, APC conducted a series of studies in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela from a civil society perspective. The objective of the study is to devise informed propositions so that the expansion and development process around broadband is supported by inclusive and democratic policies.

APC presents five reports that examine the issues surrounding broadband and telecommunications reform in the Andean region from different angles, as an introduction that offers elements of context and analysis from a more general perspective.

Researcher Orlando Arratia points out that in Bolivia, 4% of the population has access to the internet. Even if the new constitution introduces the principle of the universalising the basic services including telecommunications, it is still not clear how these proposals and advances will be materialised in a continually changing environment that faces serious political, technical and economic challenges.
(See full report here: http://www.apc.org/en/node/8884)

In Colombia, the policy of opening public ICT access centres presents an opportunity to expand access to broadband infrastructure, as observed by researchers Olga Paz, Mauricio Escobar and Paula Ospina. The researchers stress that there are serious gaps in the integration of rural and marginal urban areas in telecommunications networks as a tool for economic and social development. They conclude that public policies should address aspects such as promoting broadband service in low-income areas, reducing the costs of infrastructure investment and operation, taking advantage of technological convergence to reach isolated sectors, and increasing demand through training in the use of ICTs for development objectives.
(See full report here: http://www.apc.org/es/node/8870/ – available in Spanish only)

Ecuador is one of the countries with the lowest broadband internet penetration rates in the region, a mere 2.7%, notes researcher María Eugenia Hidalgo. This, she says, is the legacy of a failed privatisation process in the telecommunications sector and the subsequent adoption of legal reforms that handed the most profitable segment of the market (mobile telephony) to the transnational private sector. Hidalgo points out that the emergence of wireless technologies, especially Wi-Fi, offers an alternative for internet access in areas that are unprofitable by market standards and lack infrastructure. She stresses that strong state involvement in the provision of services and infrastructure should create a favourable environment for implementing the concept of universal access.
(See full report here: http://www.apc.org/en/node/8885)

In Peru the issue of broadband is approached from a net neutrality perspective. Currently there are two opposing viewpoints: those who want the internet to remain open and unfiltered and those who propose the use of network management systems in the name of making more efficient use of the network. Researcher Jorge Bossio concludes by emphasising the need for a wide-reaching debate in order to prevent, on the one hand, de facto practices that violate consumers’ rights, and on the other, vertical and hastily adopted legislation that could result in disincentives to investment, higher prices for services and deterioration in the quality of service. At the heart of this conflict are two opposing models of development, one based on the market and the other on the administration of public goods.
(See full report here: http://www.apc.org/en/node/8886)

In Venezuela both the quality and cost of communications services, especially broadband, are affected by the fact that most internet traffic must travel outside the region before returning back to the region, observes researcher Ysabel Briseño. She analyses why Venezuela still has not succeeded in implementing plans for the creation of a Network Access Point (NAP) to address this problem. Briceño concludes by asking whether rapid changes in technology are generating other solutions for the problems that the creation of a NAP was initially meant to remedy. Finally, she highlights the potential influence of the nature of interrelations and negotiations between the State and society in Venezuela on the decisions that are ultimately adopted.
(See full report here: http://www.apc.org/en/node/8887)

Read the introductory report here: http://www.apc.org/en/node/8883/ (English)

Photo by: nicolasnova. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0.

(END/2009)

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