I recently attended the Andean Telecom Forum in Bogota, which saw operators and regulators discussing the main themes of the sector in Colombia. The country has one of the most successful national broadband plans in Latin America; after expanding the infrastructure in most areas of the country, the government now faces the challenge of how to best leverage these assets so its citizens and economy can benefit.
Colombia built its backbone, now wants to transform its economy using ICT
In 2010, approximately 200 of 1,100 municipalities in Colombia were connected to a fiber backbone; investment in infrastructure via the "Plan Vive Digital" caused this number to grow to 1,078 by 2014. This, along with initiatives to reduce device costs and make spectrum available to operators, allowed Colombia to increase Internet connections fourfold in four years. As a result, Colombia has caught up with the rest of the region in terms of services penetration rates.
The country now faces new challenges in advancing its digital agenda. For instance, Colombia has created targets to increase the interest for careers in engineering among students; it also has programs to incentivize digital entrepreneurs; development of e-gov, IoT, and tele-health initiatives; and the creation of digital content for basic education. These targets are now side by side with those aimed at closing the gap in infrastructure, such as the creation of 1,000 free Wi-Fi zones across the country and the allocation of more spectrum.
It will be interesting to see if Colombia will succeed in its evolved plan for ICT. However, regardless of its performance, Colombia offers a thought-provoking case for other countries that are designing or already investing in national broadband plans. Building a countrywide telecoms infrastructure is expensive and time consuming; unfortunately, governments often lack a plan for the time after the work is done. What Colombia shows is that, no matter how important the expansion of the infrastructure is, the next phase – how to leverage that infrastructure to improve the economy and people's lives – is by far the most impactful, whether it be in education, health, access to public services, or increasing the number of skilled jobs. In the context of developing countries, like those in Latin America, investment in ICT can help countries reduce the gap with the rest of the world.
Colombia Update, TE0001-001011 (January 2016)
Ari Lopes, Principal Analyst, Latin America