Debate over spectrum in Argentina: “A defining push is needed to get past the debate stage”
By AF for APCNews
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 21 March 2012
The APC initiative “Open spectrum for development” aims to improve knowledge of spectrum regulation through studies of the situation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As part of this project, five countries in Latin America, including Argentina, presented reports on their national situation.
Florencia Roveri and Flavia Fascendini of the organization Nodo Tau, along with Danilo Lujambio, co-authored the national report on Argentina. APC spoke with Roveri and Fascendini to discuss aspects of the report in more depth.
APC: What do you see as the main opportunities and obstacles for the use of the spectrum to increase access to the internet in your country, particularly for social and community uses?
Flavia Fascendini (FF): As we researched and reflected in the Argentina report, the national strategy is in the midst of developing a strong transport network made possible by the construction of the federal fibre optical network. Yet there does not seem to be a clear strategy or political will to improve wireless internet access.
APC: To what extent do you think the processes of attribution and allocation of the spectrum respond to the needs of the population, and to what extent are they guided by commercial logics?
Florencia Roveri (FR): Although there is an understanding of the spectrum as a public and social good, a commercial logic predominates in its institutionalisation and in the regulation of legality/illegality, costs, and monopoly/free competition – with a strong emphasis on technical aspects.
APC: Do you think that there are the appropriate conditions in the country for the generation of innovative entrepreneurial ventures that use the spectrum and have a positive social impact?
FR: There is an appropriate context in the sense that communication policies are now on the agenda. Nevertheless, as we say in the report, some issues of the debate around telecommunications have been shut out or displaced by the debates around broadcasting.
APC: Do you think that institutionalization in the country is adequate in regards to the definition of policies, regulation and management of the spectrum? Do you think there are other actors who should join the discussions on the use of the spectrum in the country? Do you think that the necessary conditions exist in the country for this? Why?
FR: I believe that there is currently adequate institutionalisation, which has developed recently along with some political decisions and technological advances. Nevertheless there are issues that need to be dealt with in more depth. There are subjects where the debate touches on the issues – and it is no small thing that the debate exists – but no clearly defined action plans are emerging. A defining push is needed to get past the debate stage.
FF: As we describe in the report, the Argentine state as well as the private sector and the social sector have been fully involved in the debates on the spectrum, although not always with equal degrees of transparency.
We also want to emphasise the role of the telephone cooperatives as a relevant actor in the telecommunications field that have shown an interest in having an impact on thinking about the spectrum differently, though they are a heterogeneous actor and have an uneven capacity for advocacy.
APC: Do you think that the country meets the conditions necessary for carrying out an audit of the use of the spectrum? If so, do you think that your organization could participate in that process?
FR: I believe that yes those conditions do exist and that it is truly an outstanding debt of the current management. Although our organisation is in the midst of reviewing the focus of our work, we would be interested in participating in this type of task, with the aim of offering the perspective of civil society.
APC: Do you have any other comments on the report you wrote or any other point you particularly want to emphasise?
FF: I think it is worth emphasising here some of the recommendations for advancing the research that we offered in the final report. First, one recommended focus is related to the extent of debate around the use of the spectrum, since it is practically nonexistent regarding bands not assigned to broadcasting, and there is little social awareness of it. To remove this issue from its “technical obscurity” is a first step in the direction of opening the debate around the use of the spectrum – including telecommunications services, which were left off the public agenda – as a social issue that is of interest and accessible to various sectors, with the aim of it becoming a national political discussion.
A second issue to emphasise is that in the report we indicated several of our initial concerns about the region of the country that it is known as the “deep interior”, the capillarity of that backbone and the last mile, and our suspicion that there were many places in the country where there would never – or at least in the medium term – be a private operator because it would not be economically viable. These concerns were mitigated when we fully reviewed the technical specifications of the Telecommunications Plan Argentina Connected (Plan de Telecomunicaciones Argentina Conectada). The design and construction specifications in the plan show a high capillarity that will offer an interesting opportunity to connect the deep interior of the country.
We also highlighted the importance of initiatives like universal service since, amongst other successes, it emphasises the responsibility of private actors (in 2010 resolution 154 of the secretary of communications approved the method for receiving contributions for the universal service fund).
We also think it is worth noting the need for a public policy to strengthen free networks and favour and promote connections between the different networks in the country.
Finally we emphasised that, although the law of audio-visual communication services contemplates a social fee for cable, there is no social fee for broadband, which would be an interesting alternative worth exploring.
This was an interview of Florencia Roveri and Flavia Fascendini, authors, along with Danilo Lujambio, of the national report on Argentina, as part of the APC initiative Open spectrum for development. The initiative aims to improve knowledge of spectrum regulation through studies of the situation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This project is part of the `Action Research Network’ initiative, financed by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.
Photo by fabiane13 . Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.o