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Digital transformation must be at the center of public policy

Córdoba, Argentina. July 3, 2019. Javier Piñeiro, Regional Director of GSMA Latin America, argued, during the opening session at the Latin American Telecommunications Congress 2019 (CLT19), that “In order to connect everything and everyone to a better future, digital development must be at the center of the public policy agendas of every country in the region.” Santiago Rojas, a representative of the Development Bank of Latin America – CAF, pointed out that the digital divide must be a priority for everyone since, otherwise, new divides would emerge in relation to access to information and government services. Moreover, Chaesub Lee, Director of ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, held that 5G technology will accelerate the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which increases the importance of international standards and harmonization.

 Argentina fosters convergence and moves forward to digitalization 

At the CLT19, authorities from the Argentinian government gave a presentation about the progress made in relation to the Digital Agenda 2030, set in 2018. During the opening Plenary Session of the Congress, Andrés Ibarra, Vice-Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers of Argentina and Secretary of Government of Modernization, underlined the progress made in the Connectivity and Telecommunications Plan, and said two million new homes are expected to have fixed broadband by the end of this year.

Optic fiber is one of the fastest-growing technologies in Argentina, driven by the Federal Internet Plan. In 2015, there were 6,500 kilometers of it and, at present, there are over 30 thousand. By the end of 2019, Argentina expects to reach 34 thousand kilometers. As regards connected towns, in 2015, there were 17 of them connected. Today, that number amounts to over 900, and by 2020, the number of connected towns is expected to reach 1,300. Furthermore, there are currently over 900 Wi-Fi points and, by the end of this year, this number is expected to be greater than 1,000. Héctor Huici, ICT Secretary in Argentina, brought up the updates on regulations, deregulation, the convergent law, and the spectrum plan as the medium-term goals they have been working on.

Also, Silvana Giudici, President of the National Entity of Communications (ENACOM), stated that, by the end of this year, they expect to reach 93% of 4G coverage nationwide. Currently, 4G penetration in Argentina surpasses 67%, with 27.6 million fourth-generation lines.

Bridging the digital divide requires regulatory neutrality
In order to achieve the goal of bridging the digital divide, it is vital to have regulatory neutrality and public policy designed to attain the objective of universalizing access, according to Pablo Bello, Executive Director of the Inter-American Association of Telecommunications Companies (ASIET). Bello focused on the possibility of using partnership models to expand coverage, due to high operational costs in rural areas, but in a way that is complementary to the market, underlining that it would not be advantageous to have asymmetric regulations causing distortions.

 Carolina Caeiro, Coordinator of Development Projects at Lacnic, argued that community networks are intended to work as a complement to traditional networks, as an additional strategy to bridge the digital divide. Mauricio Agudelo, from the Development Bank of Latin America – CAF, reminded the audience that 20% of the population in Latin America lives in rural areas, and stressed that efforts must be made to lower the cost incurred by community networks to have access to wholesale infrastructure. In line with attaining the goal of bridging the digital divide, José Juan Haro, Director of Public Policy and Wholesale Business at Telefónica Latam, presented the “Internet para todos (IpT)” (Internet for everyone) project, launched in Peru, which was set up in an independent telecommunications infrastructure company with the purpose of universalizing access. Facebook, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and CAF are also part of this initiative.

In addition, Ángel Melguizo, Vice-President of External and Regulatory Affairs for AT&T DIRECTV Latin America, underscored that “45% of Latin Americans have no connectivity, but there are structural aspects that allow us to stay positive, such as its young and thriving population.”

Alliance to close the digital and gender divide in rural areas
ASIET, ENACOM, Facebook and Telefónica participated in the ceremony to join the Alliance of Rural Women’s Connectivity, driven by OAS-CITEL. This agreement aims at extending the “Rural Women’s Alliance” initiative launched in 2018, with the purpose of providing connectivity to areas that are hard to reach. The aim is to close the gap in rural areas, where women experience two different types of inequality: the gender and the connectivity gap. This alliance includes Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the United States, Mexico and Paraguay, with the cooperation of the GSMA, CCAT LAT, Citel and ISOC organizations, and Viasat, a satellite company.

Cities like São Paulo and CDMX to lead the digital investment in Latin America; Cuba moves forward

Juan Jung, Public Policy Director at ASIET, talked about the investment challenges in the region, in a very complex context, with low economic growth and a regulation that does not provide for the distribution changes brought about by the new paradigm, and he stressed that “In countries where institutions are considered as stable and good-quality ones, investments are larger.”

Additionally, Sebastián Cabello, an expert in telecommunications, pointed out that big cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Santiago and São Paulo will want and request smart cities solutions, for example, to improve highway administration issues, which will, in turn, help foster investments.  Rachel Samren, Director of External Affairs and Member of the Executive Committee at Millicom, argued that investments must be a national matter. “We all want a connected world. In Latin America, the digital road must be paved cooperatively. It’s not about competition; it’s about cooperation.”