Regional broadband costs, speeds reported highly variable

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has launched the Regional Broadband Observatory to monitor mobile services.

Mobile broadband has been one of the fastest growing telecommunications services in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, thanks to its wide availability and the rise in the number of payment options and contracts for users.

However, such growth has been uneven, and this results in a wide gap between the region’s countries and more developed nations.

According to data from the new Regional Broadband Observatory, the percentage of the Latin American and Caribbean population who have mobile broadband services went from 0.2% in 2005 to 4.7% in 2009, while in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (generally considered the First World), the proportion rose from 5 per cent to 49 percent in the same period.

According to Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean promotes a development agenda based on equal rights and the narrowing of productive gaps, “and the Observatory helps us to see more clearly the inequalities of broadband access, in terms of charges and speed, as well as challenges in relation to infrastructure and connectivity”.

Broadband may “become a fundamental axis for regional integration,” especially in the context of the Union of South American Nations, she said. The Economic Commission is a United Nations agency.
One of the main factors that determine the take-up of broadband is its price, according to Ms. Bárcena. In March 2011, the average regional price for fixed broadband was $72.8 per megabyte per second (mbps), compared with $5.9 dollars per mbps in the 34 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This makes the Latin region 50 times more expensive than the developed world.

At one extreme, in Bolivia the charge (measured by purchasing power parity) was $300 per mbps, while at the other extreme in Panamá the charge is $17.7 per mbps, the observatory reported.

Another aspect of broadband quality is speed. Observatory figures show that, over the past year, the effective upload and download speeds for Internet broadband in South America rose by 53 percent.

This is particularly true for Chile, where in April upload speeds reached 1,767 mbps (39 percent more than in April 2010) and download speeds reached 6,413 mbps. In Bolivia, upload speeds were 210 mbps and download speeds 428 mbps, which represent the lowest figures.

The data was reported at the Regional Dialogue on the Costs of International Connections and their Impact on Broadband Prices. The regional dialogue on broadband was set up in 2010 and involves Argentina, Brazil, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

The economic commission was given the mandate to set up the Regional Broadband Observatory, which is part of a project funded jointly with the European Union, during the second meeting of the Dialogue held last Nov. 20 in Lima, Perú.

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