IDG Connect conducts a survey of local business & IT professionals, asking if they felt the Digital Divide across Latin America was improving.
More than a requirement, connectivity in the present day & age has become a necessity. Connectivity today ensures access to massive amounts of information and acts as a vehicle for instant communication. It not only fosters social equality but provides a passage for better trade, healthcare and educational facilities.
But these pervasive benefits of connectivity that we enjoy on a day-to-day basis are not a reality for everyone. According to United Nations Broadband Commission* around 57% of the world is offline even today. This represents over 4 billion people who could communicate and potentially pursue their local and global passions. These stats tend to be more prevalent in developing countries. Take the case of Latin America, which is very diverse in terms of social and economic development and more so in terms of cellular penetration. Of all the numbers that demonstrate LATAM’s persistent inequality, digital divide is the most surprising one. In Mexico alone, barely 20% of the population has internet access at home. *
The ground reality is that even today, for many people, cellular connectivity is a distant dream. There are remote areas in Peru where people still travel miles to get decent connectivity. The problem lies in the administration of infrastructure. Inconsistent and contradictory legislation contributes to restrictions and difficulties in deployment. This coupled with the immense dispersion in population only amplifies the situation.
Currently, one of the main issues faced by telecom operators are the barriers imposed by certain jurisdictions in LATAM which take different, and even opposing measures on policies that guide infrastructure installation. Situations like these harm the community in the long run by delaying expansion services and increasing overhead costs for telecom companies.
Another barrier that defers telecom coverage is misguided information among different civil and regulatory bodies regarding the effects on health that telecommunication infrastructure could have. As a result, in many cases, false data has led regulators to formulate policy that hinders coverage. In addition, there is community resistance to the installation of antennas or towers mainly owing to alleged visual pollution and the depreciation of surrounding property.
This digital divide is starkly evident beyond the city’s real limits. One can find entire villages where people have never made a phone call their entire lives. Telecom operators in these regions play as important a role as government authorities themselves. There is a severe need for them to peek beyond their profit motives and reach these deprived communities.
The government on the other hand needs to proactively formulate, approve and manage regulations while simultaneously formulating regional development plans. There is an urgent need to establish standardized procedures nationwide to stimulate infrastructure deployment. Active infrastructure needs to be upgraded and a smooth route needs to be established to welcome new technologies.
It is necessary for the industry and governments to advocate in favor of the benefits that digital adoption will bring in terms of educating society, creating jobs, new businesses and increasing GDP.
Though Latin America in general may be lagging but the future remains bright. It is forecast that by 2020 LATAM will be one of the largest smart-phone markets. The operators are constantly being challenged to tap into the expanding potential and increase adoption. Only if all stakeholders work cohesively will digital inclusion of all LATAM citizens become a reality.