Innovative strategies in achieving universal connectivity

10 Dec 2021 08:30h - 10:00h

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Event report

The discussion, which focused on achieving universal connectivity with a focus on the Latin American and Caribbean region was opened by Ms Nathalia Sautchuk Patricio (Centre for Global Cooperation Research University of Duisburg-Essen). Ms Renata Santoyo (Anatel) began with addressing common concerns around expansion of telecommunications infrastructure to improve access, as well as improving access according to local needs. Mr Carlos Bello (Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)) continued speaking about the expansion of affordable access through the use of emerging technologies appropriate for countries with challenging terrain. In these cases it may not be cost effective for the private sector and the state needs to become involved. State involvement can be through a combination of directly building networks and facilitation of regulation that allows the private sector to build infrastructure.

Santoyo mentioned a recent project developed by the National Telecommunications Agency in Brazil and the British Embassy that created an environment for the development of regulatory compliant community networks in rural areas of Brazil. The project used a range of spectrum resources and promoted digital inclusion and the transformation process in the country. Open data were used to identify access and transparent networks in all locations in Brazil, whether urban or rural, and to map the level and type of coverage in communities and with indigenous peoples. Open data were also used to map the technology and costs of incorporating Indigenous peoples’ right to self-communication, self-determination, and their own media. This project represents a paradigm shift for local administrations and entrepreneurs in developing new access infrastructure to enable individuals and communities to manage a common good.

Bello highlighted examples from Colombia and Mexico, where regulators are working with local authorities to help them understand that allowing internet infrastructure and telecom infrastructure is good for their localities. Mr Juan Peirano (Internet Society), in commenting on progress in the Latin America and Caribbean region, made reference to the complexity in the connectivity landscape and the connection with the intrinsic complexity of human relationships.

A policy brief was produced from the Brazilian project detailing a deep analysis of the current scenario of community networks in Brazil, including the mapping of existing community networks and the vision of the main actors involved. Documentary research and consultation with stakeholders provided insight into the main challenges in recommending potential improvements. The policy brief is based on examples of good practice in Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and Spain. In addition, a community network manual for residents in areas with no or little connectivity was produced, providing general guidelines for the implementation of community networks; it was made available to the entire population in a very friendly language. Two videos were also produced providing guidance to the general public.

Bello made a call for the regulation of mobile virtual network operators, a group that is growing rapidly in Latin America, but which should not be treated as standard operators. Additionally, spectrum fees should be accessible and allow service providers to develop. Fibre infrastructure installation has grown by 35% between 2019 and 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Wireless Internet Service Providers are private companies or individuals who have installed infrastructure for their own internet and then sold access to their neighbours. This has grown rapidly in Mexico. Peirano applauded efforts across the region in managing spectrum related to WiFi6 and Santoyo discussed recent consideration and exploration of WiFi6 for driving community networks.

Concerns that arose with increased access and coverage where communication platforms were used for misinformation purposes were highlighted by Ms Raquel Renno Nunes (Article 19). For example, WhatsApp can be used without the opportunity for fact checking due to limited data packages.

By Andre Edwards

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