Digital Disconnect – its impact on the lives of Latin Americans

“I lost the job because they could not call me to say I’m hired” said Pedro who lives in a rural Mexican community, where mobile connectivity is a dream and people have to drive for two hours to make a call from the nearest city.  This continues to be the fate of many rural communities in Latin America.

Report on Digital Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean by GSMA indicates that 1 in 10 people don’t receive mobile connectivity in their villages, and telecom companies are unwilling or unable to invest in these areas.

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Major hurdles faced by the firms in setting up a mobile base station in these communities is the high capex involved in developing infrastructure to support the facility. Moreover, most of these communities have a small population of poor economic backgrounds. The low ROI expected from these areas deters major telecom firms from providing their services in these sections.

As a result, social and economic development in these communities suffers greatly. Many people migrate to nearby cities in search of a better life, leaving behind families who they cannot call at will. In an era of connectivity, people in such communities fight challenges unimagined by their urban counterparts. The simple act of letting your loved one know that you’ll be home for dinner is a daunting task. Accidents in these areas often turn fatal since the victim cannot call for help. On a larger scale, the youth in these communities suffer with lack of access to proper information or new -age education.

Socially disconnected, residents in these areas are even unable to access information critical to their growth. Farmers don’t get any news on current market price of their produce or critical weather updates. Lack of connectivity isolates them from opportunities of expanding their trade regionally, nationally and globally.

Multiple reports showcase the impact of mobile economy on growth. A report by GSMA, ‘The Mobile Economy Latin America 2014’ also states a 4.1% contribution to GDP of Latin America in 2013 wherein mobile connectivity supported 2.2 million jobs directly and indirectly.

The need for digital inclusion is well recognized by the governments. Telecom reforms in Mexico allowed for allocation of spectrum to individuals and small groups so they can set up mobile connectivity in places where large MNOs wouldn’t.  Policy changes coupled by technological revolutions like Open BTS now allow these communities to set up and run their own mobile network.

Firms like ours work with the local communities in disconnected areas to develop and spread awareness around do-it-yourself mobile network technologies. These products pack the infrastructure of a mobile base station in a box which can be easily installed and maintained by local communities. The systems are not power hungry; they run on solar energy so villagers experience seamless mobile connectivity even in areas with disruptive electricity supply.

It’s a good sign that awareness around the existence, use and legality of Open BTS technology is slowly increasing as more communities take it on themselves to solve their connectivity issues and improve their quality of life.