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Chaired by Lorrayne Porciuncula, Economist/ Policy Analyst – Telecommunication Policy and Regulation, Digital Economy Policy (DEP) of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), OECD, the session was built around the newly launched Broadband Policies for Latin America and the Caribbean: A Digital Economy Toolkit (available in English and in Spanish). The toolkit is the result of a two-year project that involved 26 countries in the LAC region and the combined resources of the OECD and the International Development Bank. In setting out some guidelines for designing a whole-of-government approach to broadband policies, this toolkit aims to assist countries in the region to enhance their digital prospects and make progress on international, regional, and national policy objectives.
During the session, the findings and challenges outlined in the publication were highlighted, bringing forward insights on what could be improved and sharing the good practices identified. Discussing the take-aways from the toolkit, Ms María Elena Estavillo, Commissioner at the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones in Mexico, drew on the experience of her country and stressed the importance of coordination across local and federal levels to overcome bottlenecks in the deployment of infrastructure. Among the core challenges Mexico is confronted with right now are competition and wholesale services regulation. Complementing that, Mr Bruno Ramos, Director of the Americas Regional Office at the ITU, added the importance of understanding regional specificities. As a next step, he sees the necessity of holding special talks with each country from the region to adapt the toolkit to their needs. Mr Sebastian Bellagamba, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean – Internet Society, commended the report for its broad acknowledgement that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. He advocated embedding the connection brought to people with relevance and trust.
Mr Christoph Steck, Director of Public Policy and Internet at Telefónica, noted that Latin America has made an important jump in joining the world-class infrastructure, but there is still a question of affordability when devices and service prices are taxed as luxury goods. The operators face the challenge of providing an equal quality of service in countries with lower GDPs. He pointed to the example of taxation innovations such as the daily allowances to buy Internet that Telefónica is experimenting with in the region. Where more needs to be done, in his view, is at the level of specifying what policy change could look like when it comes to horizontal regulations (to ensure that there is no heavy deregulation for one part of the industry and overregulation for the other).
Mr Gonzalo Navarro, Executive Director, Asociación Latinoamericana de Internet – ALAI, reminded participants that the Internet is not just an infrastructure, but an entire ecosystem. To navigate this space, reliable information and analysis are needed. Echoing the last remark, Mr Alexandre Barbosa (Manager, CETIC.br, Brazil) pointed to data measurement as key to achieving the policies we want. While more than 80% of all countries produce basic statistics like broadband penetration, awareness among policymakers is needed for collecting data on demand – and for proper integration across different Internet-related areas. What is missing, in his opinion, is capacity building on how to use this toolkit and how to conduct data measurements.
The absence of data on skills and local innovation is an impediment also for operations, as Steck stressed. In partnership with a few universities, Telefónica has launched an Index of Digital Life to capture that data. Skills and jobs in the digital economy are the only way to capitalise on the opportunities made available by the Internet, concluded Bellagamba. Bringing the example of Brazil, Barbosa highlighted the challenges of data literacy when mobile access is the only form of access for low-income populations. With a single, cellular device, the experience of the Internet is different and that has an impact on using the skills for the marketplace or education.
At the end of the session, all speakers agreed that, to implement some of the good practice identified, regional collaboration is needed, as a first step towards achieving regional integration long-term. All regional organisations have a digital component on their agenda. Latin American forums have started discussing a potential Digital Single Market for the region, following the EU example. But many challenges remain. As Ramos concluded: ‘In the region, we don’t have the same mechanisms as in Europe; we don’t have the same enforcement. We need to talk to each country to see its needs.’
by Dr Roxana Radu