More enabling policies needed for Caribbean to go digital
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday June 4, 2012 – Broadband is less accessible, more expensive and less used in most Latin American and Caribbean countries than the average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
However, a 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration in the region could boost gross domestic product by an average 3.2 percent and raise productivity by 2.6 percent.
This assessment of the current internet environment in the Caribbean has been offered up by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in a release marking the recent publication of its new report: “Bridging Gaps, Building Opportunities: Broadband as a Catalyst for Economic Growth and Social Progress in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
According to the new report, broadband is expanding rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the region still lags behind the world’s most advanced nations in terms of coverage, access and adoption of information and communication technology services delivered through fast networks.
At present, however, In terms of fixed broadband penetration, European nations have an average of 30 installed lines per 100 people, nearly triple the average in this region.
Regarding mobile broadband, countries such as Korea, Sweden and Japan have about one line per person. The average penetration for Latin America and the Caribbean is about 15 lines per 100 people.
The report draws on the perspectives of IDB and a wide array of stakeholders, including technology companies, multinational and national telecommunications operators, academic institutions and international agencies.
It found that the digital divide is even starker among and within countries of this region, particularly when comparing coverage in urban and rural areas. In some countries, broadband penetration rates in major cities are more than 10 times higher than in the countryside.
However, it also suggested that by improving broadband connectivity and making services more widely available and affordable, countries could help businesses -- particularly small and medium-sized ones -- become more competitive as well as provide their citizens access to more efficient government services, educational opportunities and healthcare, especially for people in remote areas or in underserved segments of the population.
And, it noted that although prices have been falling in recent years, cost is another major hurdle: broadband users in Latin America and the Caribbean pay far more for slower service than consumers in OECD countries, where households have more disposable income. In some cases, high trade tariffs make imported computers, smartphones and wireless devices more expensive for businesses and individuals, limiting the expansion of broadband usage.
The report offered a range of policy recommendations to overcome obstacles to expanding broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean including, improving digital literacy by expanding current efforts to wire schools, train teachers in IT and provide computers to students, encouraging small businesses to adopt broadband and train their employees in ICTs, and adopting government policies to foster investment in broadband “backbone” infrastructure within and between countries in the region.
The report also suggested that Latin American and Caribbean countries needed to modernize their IT legislations, ranging from protection of personal data to licensing of service providers and regulatory frameworks that treat telecommunications and broadcasting as unrelated industries.
In its conclusions, the report states: “The challenges of developing broadband are so formidable that the private sector will not be able to face them alone. Indeed, there is a need for governments to join with the private sector and to provide leadership in initiatives to reduce not only the digital divide but also to use digital means to narrow the social divide.”