By APCNews Montevideo, 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 Venezuela, presented reports on their national situation.
Sandra Benítez and Ermanno Pietrosemoli of EsLaRed co-authored the national report on Venezuela. APC spoke with Benítez and Pietrosemoli to discuss the findings.
APC: What do you see as the main opportunities and obstacles for using the spectrum to increase internet access in Venezuela, particularly for social and community uses?
Sandra Benítez (SB): In Venezuela both government and the private sector there are initiatives to increase internet access by both the government and the private sector. Nevertheless, the investments have not been sufficient to cover the demands for telecommunications services in low population density and rural areas. The main opportunities that have been implemented in Venezuela include the installation of the Simón Bolivar satellite and 2500 satellite antennas in less privileged areas (rural, border and difficult access areas) for use by the state telecommunications companies (CANTV, etc). However, the satellite is underused and its use is at the discretion of the respective entities.
The national transportation network (red nacional de transporte) is another notable project. It involves the installation of approximately 14,000 km of fibre optic cable across the country. At the moment there are the funds (universal access funds) to install the trunk network, but the branches have not been put out for bids, which delays their development and the possibilities for access. With this network, the hope is to connect the North and the South of the country with fibre optics, since existing developments cover the centre-North of the country, the area with greatest population density.
Also, the installation of wireless networks to connect public institutions, community centres, clinics, rural schools, etc. In regards to the private sector it is worth noting that the company Movistar has 1500 GSM cells, 900 3.5G cells and one fibre optic network of 2188 km, the Digitel company has base stations and 1000 km of fibre optics, and the company INTER has 14,000 km.
APC: Do you think that the necessary conditions exist in the country for the generation of innovative entrepreneurial ventures that use the spectrum and have a positive social impact?
SB: At the moment Venezuela is in the midst of transforming the organisational structures of the institutions that manage telecommunications, with the aim of consolidating a socialist development model. In this context the most notable transformations have been reforms of the legal framework and changes in hierarchies of entities responsible for telecommunications. The most important reforms include:
- Modifications to the main telecommunications law and social responsibility in radio, television and electronic media law, which introduce greater controls over the administration of the spectrum and control of the content that circulates on the internet.
- The assignment of the telecommunications regulatory body to the office of the vice-presidency, which is a threat to the impartiality, autonomy and independence of the agency that applies the regulations.
- The revocation of the spectrum held by private media, the closure of open signal stations, and the allocation of the frequencies thereby freed to community media, which has created national uncertainty and unease.
- Processes of expropriation of companies in the sector have been initiated, which creates legal insecurity and scares away potentials investors.
- The promulgation of new laws, like the community and alternative media law, that lend themselves to arbitrary interpretations but that also promote the inclusion of less privileged sectors.
- The establishment of strict exchange controls that prohibit companies from repatriating capital. This puts a break on investments and the free competition needed for CANAEMTE Venezuela to advance on par with other countries in the region.
Given this context the conditions for promoting entrepreneurship do not exist and also opportunities to have a positive impact on society are weakened.
APC: Does Venezuela have the conditions necessary for carrying out an audit of the use of the spectrum? If so, do you think that EsLaRed could participate in that process?
Ermanno Pietrosemoli: An audit is not viable due to Venezuela’s political situation. It is very difficult to obtain information from official entities. What little information there is, is difficult to collect and goes through a very strong political sieve. It is not objective. In 2012 there will be elections, so we do not know what the situation will be like.
APC: Do you think that institutionalisation in Venezuela 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 country is ready for this?
SB: The policies of the government aim to reduce access inequalities, increase the penetration of services, and extend infrastructure, among other things. However those plans have undergone modifications in successive stages with no coherent logical structure. That is to say, in practice there are no concrete results that are in line with the established policies.
Although other actors do exist, such as universities, private companies, chambers of commerce of the telecommunications sector, and civil society in general, the point is that the responsible entities (such as the national assembly, CONATEL, etc) need to promote consensus and invite participation in the national discernment process. The most recent reforms to the main (organic) telecommunications law and the social responsibility in radio, television and electronic media law are an example of what little political will there is to promote these sorts of gatherings. At the moment the political panorama does not favor a national coming together of all sectors of Venezuelan society and the consolidation of a non-ideological state project that would bring people together for the benefit of the country.
This is an interview of Sandra Benítez and Ermanno Pietrosemoli of EsLaRed, authors of the national report on Venezuela, as part of the APC initiative Open spectrum for development, which 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 nicaprio. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0