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Broadband use touted as key to development
by Staff Writers
Brasilia, Brazil (UPI) Nov 30, 2011

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A wider introduction of broadband and Internet telecommunication will help development and social inclusion throughout Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank said in studies released at a ministerial conference.

International telecommunications organizations, governments and non-government organizations sent representatives to the meeting, which also looked into promotion of intercontinental fiber-optic networks in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Broadband network expansion in Latin America is linked to issues of chronic poverty issues, patchy development and lack of resources. But this year's experience of telecommunications playing a key role in the Arab Spring in the Middle East and Africa has given a stronger voice to those backing broadband expansion in Latin America.

Connectivity and access to the Internet is linked to income disparities in Latin America and within countries seen from the outside as buoyant and increasingly prosperous emerging markets.

Income disparities that affect access to broadband are the strongest in high-growth countries, including Brazil, analysts said.

IDB said member countries of the Union of South American Nations need to improve cooperation and stimulate private investment to increase broadband access. UNASUR has 12 members -- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela -- and two observers, Mexico and Panama.

Greater accessibility to broadband will lead to lower costs and greater usage, conclusions reached in the studies said. The documents were released at the meeting of UNASUR communication ministers.

Although Latin America's broadband infrastructure is growing, it lags behind China and other parts of the world, the study indicated. The region's connectivity is rated at about seven per 100 inhabitants, less than China's 9.4 and the Organization for Economic Co-operations and Development's 25 per 100, IDB Science and Technology Division head Flora Painter told the meeting.

The OECD comprises 34 nations dubbed developed or industrialized. Chile is the OECD's only South American member.

IDB says Latin American countries need to promote public-private partnerships, give more tax incentives and modify regulations to stimulate investment.

"South America will accelerate economic development if it increases access to broadband services to low-income populations and businesses, especially small and medium-sized companies," Painter said.

"UNASUR member countries have a great opportunity to invest in coordinated efforts to improve regional and international connectivity and increase the production of local content, which we consider necessary to democratize and reduce the cost of access."

UNASUR members should build more domestic and regional connection points as that will cut the distances for data traffic and lower costs.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says 75-85 percent of the region's traffic, including locally produced content, goes through Miami. In contrast, most of Europe's traffic stays within its borders.

IDB is also promoting greater user of underwater fiber-optic networks in Latin America, which lags behind Africa even though the region generates more business.

An earlier meeting on broadband expansion in Miami looked at the Caribbean region.


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