viernes, 3 de diciembre de 2010

Cornelio: Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean

A short report about the 3rd Ministerial Conference on
Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean
eLAC2015 – Lima 20 to 23 of October 2010

Summary: eLAC describes itself as a regionally concerted strategy that conceives of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) as instruments for economic development and social inclusion. It is a strategy with a long-term vision (until 2015) in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and those of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is concentrated on short-term action plans with concrete qualitative and quantitative goals to be achieved.

On 23 of December 2010 in Lima – Peru the 3rd Ministerial Conference approved its 3rd Action Plan eLAC2015. The following eight actions lines relating to ICTs are included in eLAC2015: access, e-government, environment, social security, productive development, innovation, enabling environments and the institutions for a State policy.

In terms of access, the Plan prioritizes progress towards universal broadband, which implies increased direct investment in connectivity, so that broadband is available in 100% of public institutions and that the costs are accessible for households, companies and public access centers.

The Plan also advocates the implementation of e-government, which is seen as an obligation of governments towards their citizens that guarantees access to the maximum amount of data, information, administrative procedures and services on-line.

To promote productive development and innovation, eLAC2015 suggests working to narrow the digital divide between small, medium-sized and large enterprises, so that they all have access to broadband.

In education, the idea is to develop ICTs for an inclusive education, such that all educational establishments can be connected to the Internet and introduce interactive applications and produce multimedia public content

Though eLAC action plans do not translate directly into concrete, coordinated and sustained actions by the participating governments, they serve as a point of reference and for comparative evaluation, specifically in those countries without national IS-related plans. In now 9 years eLAC helped to established in Latin America a regional network among entities and professionals from Public Sector, Private Sector, Academia and Civil Society, facing -despite all strong differences- similar problems due to their similarities in history, culture and economics, a network that survived even sometimes disruptive changes in or of governments.

At the Lima-Conference 16 Governments of Latin America -all except Nicaragua and Surinam- were represented by some high-ranking official. Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago and CARICOM as sub-regional entity participated from the Caribbean. There were additional observers from Private Sector, Academia and CSO, both from individual countries as from respective regional organizations.

Other contexts for hemispherical coordination -like OAS, Organization of American States, Inter American Bank for Development, World Bank- are less comprehensive in that they include the United States and Canada -with a complete different background- and exclude Cuba. Therefore eLAC serves to reconcile first a common regional minimal consensus and the transport it into these other contexts

eLAC2015 therefore might be a useful resource to be consulted before redacting national recommendations in the Mapping Digital Media project.

Background: eLAC is a context for inter-government coordination of policies related to topic “Information Society” for Governments from Latin America and the Caribbean. The representatives of GRULAC (Grupo de América Latina y del Caribe) to ITU in Geneva started 2002 to coordinate the preparation and follow-up of the two World Summits of Information Society (2003 Geneva, 2005 Tunis), while independently at the beginning in Santiago de Chile ECLAC (CEPAL, Comisión Económica para América Latina, United Nations regional entity, and its department for industrial-economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean included the topic “Information Society” into its activities.

Technically supported by CEPAL, the eLAC-context has elaborated 3 Action-Plans: eLAC-2007, eLAC-2010 and now eLAC-2015, which are intended to be the regional implementation of the WSIS-program, yet with shorter time-frames and more concisely defined objectives and goals (with at least qualitative indicators attached).

Each Action-Plan has a Political Declaration as an introduction and organizational arrangements as annex. Results normally have been ratified by the closest most inclusive summit of Heads of States and Governments of the region, such that most likely the upcoming summit (XX Iberoamerican Summit, Argentina, 3-4 of December) will proceed similarly with the results from Lima.

The 1st Action-Plan had 30 goals and 70 activities for the years 2005-2007. It was approved by the 1st Ministerial Conference 2005 in Rio de Janeiro - Brazil, coincident with the regional WSIS preparation. It was presented as eLAC2007 in Tunis itself as a regional consensus on implementing WSIS results. The 2nd Action-Plan eLAC2010, an updated extension of eLAC2007, had 6 thematic chapters totaling 83 goals to be achieved during the 2008-2010 period and was approved at the 2nd Ministerial Conference 2008 in San Salvador – El Salvador. The 3rd Action Plan eLAC2015 reduces drastically the number of goals to only 27 to be achieved in eight action lines.

The Action-Plans are more intention-plans than plans for concrete actions, even more as they do not commit any resources to actions. However they served as guide-lines for international institutions -like United Nations Development Program, World Bank, Inter American Development Bank, Organization of American States, European Union-, bilateral cooperation agencies -like US-AID, IDRC of Canada, European governments- and national governments in their respective resource-allocation processes, such that something included has more chances for support and funding, while something not included has almost none.

As follow-up mechanism between ministerial conferences, eLAC has a steering committee with 2 state-representatives for each sub-region -Mexico and Central America, Caribbean, Andes Community, South Cone-, 3 permanent observers –one from each Private Sector (AHCIET), CSO (APC), Technical Community (LACNIC)- and a technical secretary (preparation, follow-up) -CEPAL-. There are Focal Points for each participating country and theme-specific regional working groups open for contributions by representatives of all stakeholder-groups –public, private, academic, CSO-, yet coordinated by a state-representative of some country and voting –consensus- restricted to state-representatives.

With respect to standards and agreements for ICT -on the level of technology, applications and governance- the eLAC-framework has been quite effective for instance for the broad regional acceptance of the Brazilian-Japanese standard for Digital TV, laws for cross-border recognized electronic signature, common standards for eGovernment for central, regional and local governments, cyber-crime and cyber-security, and finally Internet-Governance issues like IANA status, IP-Number allocation and procedures or the IPv6 introduction.

As a result of the bi-regional summits between EU and LAC, eLAC receives substantial financial support for the following institutionalized activities.

  • ECLAC as Technical Secretary by means of its “Information Society” program (
  • OSILAC (Observatorio de la Sociedad de la Information LAC), a regional entity to homogenize contents of IS-surveys, statistics and indicators, in some coordination with ITU, UNESCO and UN-Statistics office. (
  • CLARA and @LIS (Regional II-Generation Research-Internet with connections to counterpart-networks in Europe, Asia and -though limited- in the US and Canada + research projects with participants from UE and LAC) (
  • REGULATEL (Coordination of national TELCO-Regulators) (


Prologue: Saturday, November 20

The Regional Dialogue on the Information Society, DIRSI, within the framework of the ministerial meeting eLAC2010 organized the seminar “Telecommunications in Latin America: Persistent Gaps, commitments and opportunities’ as a space for reflection and dialogue on the challenges of regulation telecommunications services in Latin America.”

This seminar was “by invitation only” such that I could not participate. The presentations are public ( The central issue was the problem of how to extend Broad Band Access and at the same time how to reduce its costs, while Latin America ranks still very low in coverage and very high in costs per Mb/s compared to OECD country average.

While in Purchase Parity Dollars, a OECD household spends on average 50 US$ for Broad Band access, the LATAM household has to spend 102 US$, while the former pays 8 US$ per MB/s, the latter 136 US$, while at the former BB-access represents less than 1% of average household income, for the latter it represent 5% on average up-to insurmountable 98% in Bolivia. At 5%, more than 50% of households in Colombia cannot afford BB, up to more than 80% in rural areas. Similar or worse figures hold for almost all LAC-countries.

As commented later by participants, the dominant commercial operators had some difficulties in defending their actual policies, while there was little resistance against up-to strong support for governments like Brazil that starts again deploying state-owned infrastructure to be leased only under restrictions to commercial operators, or Uruguay, which never privatized Telecommunications.

Prologue: Sunday, November 21

At lunch hour, the until then registered participants from CSO had an informal meeting for last-minute agreements for tactics during the next days, specifically to assure the presence of “our” observer (APC) in the whole process to avoid “closed door” negotiations only between government-representatives.

Though only 6 were already present, others still on their way to Lima, the total 20 CSO -some of them regional- achieved with the help of some governments their objectives, which were participation of one observer for all LAC-CSO in the steering committee and the participation of CSO, according to their interests, as non-voting but contributing members in all working groups, subject only to consultancy-status with ECSOC or one-time initial approval by the Focal Point of the home-country.

It might be noted that in general Latin American Governments are not very sympathetic to the multi-stakeholder approach as proclaimed by WSIS.

Later on Sunday DRSI and ECLAC had organized a panel and open discussion Evidence and public policies for the information society, centered on the discrepancy between the very ambitious plan –eLAC2007 with its 83 goals- and the rather limited capacity to provide baseline- and follow-up-statistics to measure the effective achievements. The very intrinsic relation between more general socio-economic structures and their indicators on one side and ICT and IS-indicators on the other side was mentioned different times. Panel and audience expressed their hopes and wishes that the reduced set of goals might contribute to a better traceability of eLAC2015.

The conference: Monday, November 22 – Tuesday, November 23

Most presentations of the sessions are available at

The inaugural address of Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, set the tone for the next 2 days.

Bad news: Despite some progress in some countries in some areas, speaking globally LAC scores only 0.51 on an ITC-availability scale, where OECD is taken as 1, Eastern Europe and Central Asia count .64, the rest of Asia and the Pacific .62, Arab countries of Middle East and Mediterranean .55. Only South of Africa with .25 and the sub-Saharan region with .23 score less than LAC. Repeating findings presented earlier, costs for Broad Band per Mb/s represents less than 1% of average salary in most developed countries, yet more but 10% in most Latin American countries. While ICT-investment comes with substantially increments of productivity elsewhere, in LAC it’s irrelevant at best.

Good news: LAC had the most dynamic take-up during the last years, such that there is space for hope, if LAC engages actively to resolve its weaknesses, namely Broad Band expansion, preparedness of economic and other actors, coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts.

The essence of the new eLAC2015 Action-Plan therefore: affordable Broad Band for everybody, strong complementary efforts to promote productive ICT-usages by economic actors. As secondary focus: eGovernment, eEducation, eHealth. 18 countries have already own Digital Agendas, the others should hurry, as market by itself will not resolve.

There followed a short session of comments on the inaugural address by the highest ranking participants. Noteworthy Clothilde Fonseca, Minister for Science and Technology of Costa Rica, stressed the conceptual difference between Information-Society and Knowledge-Society, a remark that finally changed the title of eLAC2015 into Action Plan for an Information- and Knowledge Society in LAC, with accompanying minor changes and additions to the body of the document. This may appear as a minor change, yet –to my experience with this type of documents- opens the door for more content- and usage-centered projects over pure investment in equipment, systems and infrastructure.

The remainder of this day and most Tuesday were dedicated to presentations of what had been achieved or is underway in some of the participating countries. The presentations were formally grouped according to the priorities of eLAC2015. In this report we will touch only those aspects that might be relevant for Mapping Digital Media project that are (1) deployment of digital infrastructure (supply), (2) reaching out for more Digital Users (demand) and (3) availability of information to the public (supply).

Deployment of digital infrastructure: Brazil, Chile, ECLAC, Mexico, REGULATEL and Peru stressed in their different presentation the dramatically incremented gap in access to bandwidth and the costs per Mb/s for final users between OECD and Latin America. The country-presentations highlighted moreover the abysmal differences in supply of still simple access as such and of increasingly important access to broadband with their respective costs between metropolitan or more densely populated areas and rural or less densely populated areas. To some extent all agreed that pure market had failed to provide satisfactory solutions even in the presence of sometimes strong incentives or subsidies. Hence Governments of Brazil, Mexico and Peru changed already or are changing their role from pure regulation and incentives back to active investment in infrastructure.

Governments again are investing in backbone fiber-optics infrastructure or acquiring access to that type infrastructure if owned by non-communication industries, which are still under strong government-control, like electric-energy, mining and petrol. For solving last-mile problems, they install public-owned WiMax, WiFi and Satellite-Access points, which provide service not only to public institutions like local governments, education- and health institutions but also to facilities like Telecenters. This new backbone- and last-mile-infrastructure is sometimes, but not always, leased or operated by more traditional private Telco-companies. Governments replaced incentive-policies aiming at Universal Access to Telephony by policies aiming at Universal Access to Broad Band. Finally some Governments include the provision of physical infrastructure like conducts for fiber or even dark fiber in their respective energy-, transport- and water-infrastructure projects, down to the local level.

As a side-effect of both greater access to Broad Band and the boom of social networks, there has been a shift in traffic. While (Chile) some years ago 20% of requested content came from national servers, this percentage has meanwhile dropped to 5% and less. Accordingly, the costs for international connection –beyond reach for national regulation- gained impact on the costs of Broad Band for end-users. The CLARA-Network might be considered as a compensative strategy at least for academia and R&D, another might be to influence the big players –like Google and Facebook- to have more replication-centers in Latin America itself.

To my impression the majority of participants welcomed this change back to a more active role of governments in providing communication-infrastructure, something out-ruled before by the Washington-consensus. Even taking into account that this was a meeting in first place for government representatives, it’s a remarkable change compared to similar meetings before, as the change of view is shared among governments regardless of their more left or right political orientation. The role-change from “rule-maker only” to “investor also” may have consequences for access and dissemination of Digital Media, specifically for public-service Digital Media.

Reaching out for more Digital Users: Almost all presentation included a very uneven picture for access to Internet as such. While 60% to 80% of the 20% top-income households has access, in the 40% low and least-income households only 15% or less has. While almost all big enterprises use intensively ICT, less than 20% of very small, small and lower-midsize enterprises, yet the latter represent in most countries the largest part of economic activities, of employment and more but 60% of GNP.

Please note that there is a correspondence between low and least-income households and very small and small enterprises: owners and workforce of the latter mostly belong to the former. While the majority of 20% top-households have a paid employment or another form of constant revenue, a larger part of the 40% is either self-employed or part of the informal economy; while the first group uses ICT at work and at home, for the second ICT has little if any importance at home and at work, which many times is their home. In this group (Chile, Colombia) they don’t use Internet because it’s not important for them (40%), they don’t have a computer (23%) or it’s too expensive (29%).

Public policies other than the already mentioned coverage promote ICT-training (or –education) in first place and shared or community-facilities like Telecenters and Cybercafes. According to SomosTelecentros (APC, Colombia) there are more than 35,000 non-profit Telecenters in Latin America, where a subset of traced 10,416 had more than 200 Million visits in 2008. Estimates for for-profit cybercafés vary between at least 137,000 for whole Latin America to some 50,000 small and smallest (just one computer) already only in Peru. Mexico plans to open some 30,000 telecenters in rural areas and another 15,000 in poor city-neighborhoods. Similar strategies are underway in Colombia and Brazil, including special centers for very small and small enterprises. In summary, access to internet through shared facilities both for low-income groups and very small and small enterprises out weights by far access through self-owned equipment and connection.

This implies that every minute of usage or kilobyte costs –the same when using cellular phone without flat-rate-, while most fixed-line connections have a fixed cost, whatever the usage is. Hence in the latter Digital Media compete only for attention, where in the former even “Free media” may carry a substantial price-tag. As example: reading a print-version of a newspaper may be still cheaper than reading the same newspaper via Internet at a Cybercafé or even a Telecenter. Music, Youtube or TV via Internet at these places with their additionally shared bandwidth becomes very, very expensive.

Two final examples of rather small countries, Costa Rica and Uruguay. Costa Rica started 22 years ago the systematic introduction of computers into public education, beginning with Kindergarten and extending upwards to primary and secondary education. It was an educational, not a technology project, based on Constructivism of the Swiss Piaget and Pappert of MIT. Today 2 million of the 4.7 million of Costa Ricans received computing starting at Kinder, with a clear impact on general education level and working skills, which converted technology-products into the largest export-product. Uruguay –population 3.5 million- started 4 years ago the ambitious CEIBAL-program, by which by the end of 2009 every teacher and every child in public education got his personal laptop (420,00 OLPC with a personalized internal ID). All school-curricula were revised to generate appropriate digital content for learning and teaching. Together with ANTEL –after Costa Rica the only other non-privatized TELCO-operator- provisions were made to give all public schools broadband-access (4 Mb/s) and to establish local WiFi-loops such that currently 150,000 children have less than 300 meters to the next access point. As an immediate result, the lowest income-groups of families –those which attend exclusively public education- match the top group in computer ownership. By end of 2012 all Uruguayan households are projected to have internet-access, as a premise for Uruguay’s likewise ambitious eGovernment-program.

These small but in their respective context massive deployment programs apparently spurred the governments of Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to start similar endeavors, on quantitative larger scales yet limited in depth to mere deployment of equipment and training of basic computer-skills. Noteworthy, Chile reached an agreement with its ISP to connect all public schools in poor areas at no-cost to Broad Band,

Digital Public Services: Without getting into the details of increased ICT-usage in government-services on all levels –national, regional/state, local- as they are less important in the context of Digital Media, it’s noteworthy that there is a clear tendency of trying to leap-frog with respect to transparency and accountability of public administration, that is in the absence of a strong tradition of legislative control or by specialized comptroller-institutions, the more progressive –not in the sense left/right but more open to citizen-control and –participation- promote the use of ICT to allow online-real-time follow-up to their budget-relevant planning, decisions and actions, even down to the very details. As one example for local level, Colombia installed municipal accountability sites for 1063 of its 1101 municipalities, an initiative started on small scale by an NGO –COLNODO- in 5 municipalities with some support of foreign development agencies. There are other examples of national governments or parts of them, likewise on region/state- or municipality-level.

If these tendencies persist, it would change the role of professional journalism from getting hold of the basic facts to interpreting them in a broader economic-social-political context. The same holds for the other branches –legislative, judicial- and other executive actions, as more and more law-initiatives, court-decisions, studies and evaluations become available online; something may be obvious in more developed countries, yet quite recent for Latin America.

Conclusions: the 2 ½ day of presentations pictured a very heterogeneous Latin America, where may be the small countries like Costa Rica and Uruguay –despite of their lack of large industries- mark the most advanced and their immediate neighbors Nicaragua and Paraguay the least advanced countries. The only two truly big players –Brazil, Mexico- are more industrialized, hence have in their big corporations and banks more advanced elements in their private sector, yet within they have their own “Costa Rica” and “Paraguay” regions, not to talk about the large segment of very small, small and low-midsize enterprises. In that respect Brazil and Mexico report stunning differences from state to state.
It appears as if much depends on policies and initiatives implemented on scale with limited geographic, economic, ethnic and finally cultural differences. The midsize countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela apparently are “to big” to implement “one-fits-all” policies –the differences are too big to be managed centrally- and on the other side lack sufficiently strong and empowered mid-level governments to implement locally comprehensive plans. Hence they have a strong tendency to rely on the hopefully automatic positive effects of technology-deployment and –infrastructure programs, where the differences are less important or –as pure geography- are easier to manage (If they have, they will know how to use it). The small countries like Central America except Costa Rica, Paraguay and the Caribbean lack the amount of centralized resources, even those the mid-countries have, and rely hence heavily on funding by cooperation agencies.

As the eLAC2015 action-plan represents the largest common denominator among all countries, it has clear a bias toward pure technology-advances –that’s what most of the national governments can/will do- while other elements like no-technological barriers (mother tongue, education level, economics) are hardly mentioned or alluded, and if mostly as “disfavored minorities” while when summed-up they constitute with more than 60% the majority of those who live in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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