By Rachel Glickhouse/America Society/Council of Americas
With a growing number of broadband networks and increasing mobile connectivity, Latin America has seen a boom in Internet usage. There are an estimated 255 million Internet users in Latin America and the Caribbean, representing around 43 percent of the region’s population. Argentina leads the region in terms of Internet penetration at 68 percent, according to a 2012 Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers study. Chile, Uruguay and Colombia follow with the highest penetration rates in Latin America, with more than 50 percent having online access.
Broadband, a faster form of Internet connection than the traditional dial-up service, has expanded throughout the region. The UN Broadband Commission’s September 2012 report showed that Latin America had 145 million fixed broadband subscriptions at the end of 2011, accounting for about a quarter of the global total. The region also accounted for 286 million mobile broadband connections. Uruguay leads Latin America in household broadband penetration at 39.4 percent, followed by Chile and Argentina. Brazil has the greatest mobile broadband penetration in the region at nearly 21 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. For overall broadband penetration, Chile ranks highest in the region at over 10 percent.
Still, Latin America’s Internet connectivity lags behind many parts of the globe. If broadband penetration grew by just 10 percent, the region’s GDP could increase by an average of over three percent, the World Bank found. In an effort to expand broadband access, governments throughout Latin America created programs to make broadband more affordable. New initiatives also seek to extend fiber-optic networks, a more reliable form of transmission than electric copper wiring, to low-income and rural areas. AS/COA Online looks at Latin America’s largest Internet populations by number of users, as well as government efforts to expand broadband access.
As of August 2012, Brazil had 94.2 million Internet users, according to an Ibope Media study released in November. In this report, users included children and teens from ages two to 15 for the first time. This makes Brazil the fifth most connected country in the world.
Telebrasil estimated that Brazil’s broadband networks received 86 million accesses in 2012, representing a 45 percent increase from the previous year. According to Cisco’s Broadband Barometer, Brazil had 25.5 million fixed broadband connections in December 2012.
Passed by decree in 2010, Brazil’s National Broadband Plan aims to connect 40 million households to high-speed broadband Internet by 2014. Around six million families have already signed up to get connected at discounted rates. In September, President Dilma Rousseff said the government will monitor broadband speeds, since in some cases Internet users only receive 10 percent of the speed they pay for. The government now requires companies to provide at least 60 percent of the speed spelled out in customer contracts. By 2014, companies will have to provide at least 80 percent. The plan also calls for building a fiber-optic network connecting 27 state capitals.
Approximately 52 million Mexicans access the Internet, with a 46 percent penetration rate, according to a 2012 Tecnológico de Monterrey study. Around five out of 10 Mexicans have an Internet connection, though only 9.8 out of 100 inhabitants have broadband access. Mexico has around 10.7 million broadband connections, with one of the highest fixed broadband penetration rates in Latin America but the lowest of the OECD countries.
Last year, the government introduced a number of initiatives to expand broadband access. The March 2012 “Actions for Strengthening Broadband and Information Technology” plan and Digital Agenda aims to use public-private investments to build broadband infrastructure, reduce broadband costs and increase digital education. By extending the country’s fiber-optic network, the goal is to reach over 400 municipalities without Internet connections.
While campaigning, President Enrique Pena Nieto—who took office in December—proposed his own digital agenda, though his administration has yet to release a new plan. In a group of 95 proposals laid out by the Pena Nieto administration, the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) includes guaranteeing broadband in public places and creating a digital agenda.