LTC 18 – Day 1 – June 11th 2018, Means to extend both rural connectivity and deployment of networks debate

Varadero, Cuba. During the inauguration of the 6th. Latin American Telecommunication’s Congress, authorities and experts debated on the different means to expand broad band in rural areas of Latin America in a forum organized by the ITU.

There is still an important digital divide to bridge in rural areas, characterized by low economic development or by being of difficult access. Companies and organizations proposed new commercial and technological models to reach universal coverage.

Bruno Ramos, regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean at ITU (International Telecommunications Union) pointed out that multiples aspects should be considered, beyond technology, to bridge the rural digital divide; such as economic and social aspects.

Recommendations 19 & 20 of the Buenos Aires Action Plan proposed to governments and regulators to adopt policy measures and norms to bridge the rural digital divide were discussed.

Sebastián Bellagamba, director of the regional ISOC office warned that the main problem in closing the digital divide is the cost of not having internet access, which is ever rising for those who are not connected.

Ana Valero, director of regulations at Telefónica warned that in the region there are over 100 million people without data coverage, in some 50 thousand locations. She explained  that current models for traditional operators do not fit the needs of rural areas. Thus they must be understood to innovate and to explore new connectivity options.

Also, she proposed a maintenance and operation’s model for rural areas based on local entrepreneurs from the very community.

Gabriela Lago, director of regulatory affairs at OneWeb highlighted the company’s mission of “bridging the digital divide by 2027”, mainly thru satellite technology.

More on technological models to bridge the digital divide in rural areas may be queried at Mediatelecom.

Network deployment means

Pablo Bello, Executive Director of the Inter-American Association of Telecommunication Companies (ASIET) stated that there is still a persistent digital divide bridging challenge, even though the region has made significant progress in terms of connectivity.

He warned that the region has the lowest ARPU’s in the world, below 10 dollars, very close to African countries, but with infrastructure expectations similar to those of Sweden, were the ARPU is close to 40 dollars. Incentives are needed for spectrum sharing (“compartición”) and voluntary co-investment in infrastructure as well as less intervention by regulators.

“People in rural areas usually are poorer and they require new public policy instruments, not only subsidies to favor deployment, but also supply side means such as taxing credits”, he stated. The telecom industry pays 51% greater taxes than the rest of industries.

“If we are not able to bridge the digital divide in a decade, not only would we have fractured societies but also we would increase inequality. Growth depends on productivity and it in turn depends on technology”, he clarified.

Lucas Gallito, director of public policies at GSMA Latam, insisted that States may progress in deployment terms by evaluating regulatory principles for the industry, establishing policies on spectrum that provide certainty for mobile operators at an efficient price, which would enable taxing sustainability for the industry and, by facilitating voluntary infrastructure sharing.

In turn, Teresita Palacios, president of the National Telecommunication’s Commission (CONATEL) from Paraguay, shared their in country experience bridging the digital divide by launching 4G thru the tender process of the AWS and 700 MHz band.

Greater investment to bridge the digital divide

Guest speakers at the Latin American Telecommunications congress (LTC) emphasized the need for greater investment in Internet infrastructure, which would not only provide connectivity to people, but also new services.

Mauricio Agudelo, a telecommunications expert at the Latin American Development Bank CAF, mentioned that Mexico requieres additional investments nearing 12.8 billion dollars to bridge the digital divide in broad band present between the urban and rural areas; 6.7 billion are needed in Colombia and 4.8 billion dollars in Peru.

“We believe that the issue of digitalization in rural areas has a higher end goal. Enabling digital infrastructure is needed, and such infrastructure must enable local administrations so as to provide new digital public services that brings them closer to the citizen”, he stated.

Fernando Rojas, director of Production, Productivity and Management division at CEPAL, called for greater attention to inequalities at different levels, which also include connectivity and bridging the digital divide, as well as income, access to services, quality and speed of services in each area or country. Also, the call was for bridging the inherent divides between urban and rural areas. They are all factors that must be considered when planning connectivity projects.

Manuel Ruiz Gutiérrez, vice president of the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones (Sutel) of Costa Rica, highlighted that FONATEL (National Telecom Fund) Includes projects that bring telecommunications to non profitable areas, including centers for literacy.