|Topic:||Building the Information Society in Brazil The Way Forward|
|Author:||Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg|
|Organisation:||Ministry of Science and Technology, Brazil|
Brazil, starting in 1989, was one of the first countries to implement nation-wide programs to promote Internet use. Brazil’s 12 million users make it the world’s 9th largest user. Brazil separated the Internet from telecommunications sector regulations in 1995 and depended upon free market mechanisms for its growth. Several governmental programs tackle the key problem of access universalization. Brazil has actively participated in every international initiative established to fight the “digital divide” and promote the use of ICT for development.
Brazil started to implement nation-wide concerted programs to promote Internet use in 1989, when the National Council for Science and Technology Development launched the†National Research Networ? initiative. Since then, the Brazilian Internet has grown from an exclusively research and education oriented network to include new types of users (NGOs in 1993, private companies in 1995) and applications. As a result of this fast-paced evolution, Brazil has achieved an unparalleled position among developing nations of comparable size. As it embarked on its expansion, the Brazilian Internet also had to adapt itself to the impact of the privatization of telecommunications services in Brazil, which had until then been a monopoly of the state-owned Telebrás holding and its subsidiaries. The privatization process started in 1997 and is still advancing. Results so far show the success of a model of Internet governance that actively engages the government, the private sector, and the so-called third-sector. It took another three years for this model to be eventually adopted by ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The expansion of the Brazilian Internet today can be illustrated with numbers and features that are robust by any standard: · At over 12 million, the number of individual Internet users in Brazil is the 9th largest in the world. · In 2001, “.BR” domain hosts reached one million (according to Network Wizards”), making Brazil the 12th largest country in number of hosts in the world. · A Brazilian bank operates the third largest Internet banking operation anywhere in the world, with over four million registered users in 2000. · Brazil has developed a wide array of innovative public administration Internet applications, such as voting machines and an automated, secure vote count system, first introduced in 1996, which Brazil’s more than 100 million voters have used since 2000. What have been the major reasons for the success of the Brazilian Internet? · First, Brazil successfully decoupled strategic planning of the Internet from the framework of regulation of telecommunication services. This made it possible for its Internet to “open up” in 1995, years before its telecommunications regulatory model underwent restructuring. · Second, there was a timely recognition by Brazil that the Internet was a unique phenomenon, which had to be allowed to grow according to its own logic. · Finally, free market mechanisms were used to expand Internet access and applications throughout the country. This made it possible for Brazil to boast over 700 Internet access providers by 1998, all of which were busily competing for individual and corporate client accounts. The challenges ahead The expansion of the Internet is undoubtedly a decisive indicator of the evolution of a country towards the Information and Knowledge Society, based on the intensive use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). Brazil has achieved some distinct advantages in this race. Nevertheless, there are some key challenges to be overcome in the near future, such as: · The Brazilian telecommunications infrastructure, as is common in many other countries, is unevenly distributed, so that there is excess capacity in the most densely populated regions and a lack of it in areas that are not attractive from a return-on-investment viewpoint. For a large country such as Brazil, this is a formidable challenge for the universalization of access. · “Traditional” terminal equipment, such as personal computers, although far cheaper than a few years ago, remains beyond the reach of most Brazilians. · Internet and telecommunications business models currently being applied in Brazil do not match the income profile of most Brazilians. · Internet-related innovation and applications still have not tapped the enormous potential generated by the specific needs of the country. How may those challenges be tackled? There are several on-going initiatives that seek to meet them in various ways. The most ambitious of these efforts is the “Sociedade da Informação” (Information Society) Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology. This program tackles the issue of universalization of access not only as a problem, but also as an opportunity for spreading the use of Information and Communications Technologies to foster the nation’s social and economic development. The Program has identified major issues that call for innovative action, such as: · Searching for ways to provide for collective access to the Internet, through kiosks, community centers, and the like. · Supporting the development of low-cost equipment and services, especially through the use of open-source software and open architectures. · Supporting the creation of content and services in the Portuguese language. · Promoting the development of ICT (information and communication technology) applications for the lower-income sections of the population (along lines similar, for instance, to those of the Grameen telecomm initiative in Bangladesh). The success of this and other governmental programs for the promotion of ICT use for development in Brazil will surely represent major milestones on its way to becoming a full member of the global Information Society. Furthermore, Brazil also recognizes that the Information Society, just like other global issues such as climate change, requires orchestrated action by the international community. Therefore, our country has been an active participant of every major international initiative established to fight the so-called “digital divide” and to promote the effective use of ICT for development. Brazil, along with other Latin American and Caribbean countries were the first to adopt a regional plan of action against the digital divide, which is better known as the “Florianopolis Declaration”, after the Brazilian city that hosted the first regional meeting on ICT for development in 2000. The Declaration was submitted to the United Nations´s Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC) at its ministerial-level meeting in July 2000, which focused precisely on the growing danger of a worldwide digital divide. Since then, major international initiatives were adopted to address the problem. The “Digital Opportunities Task Force” – better known as the DOT Force – of the G-8 was created in 2000, at the Okinawa Summit, and submitted its findings and recommendations to the following G-8 Summit, in Genoa. Brazil has been engaged along with other developing and G-8 countries of the DOT Force in identifying ways to implement those suggestions, and it looks forward to substantive progress on the issue at the Canadian Summit in 2002. The United Nations’ ICT Task Force, established by Secretary General Koffi Annan under the aegis of the ECOSOC, convened formally for the first time on 3 and 4 February 2002. Its unique blend of governmental and private sector representatives is a major asset to carry out the innovative efforts the ICT Task Force has undertaken to pursue in order to promote partnerships involving the public and the private sectors. Indeed, the UN ICT Task Force intends to work in close coordination with countries in the world’s various regions by promoting “networking” among major actors, both public and private, to promote the use of ICT for development. The first such regional “networks” of actors is now being established – the Latin American and Caribbean Network. It will be ready to go by early April, based on the extensive coordination that the region’s countries have been building since the Florianopolis meeting. The promotion of ICT for development and the struggle against the digital divide are clearly major global challenges for this decade and the next. Achieving universal access to the benefits of the Information Society, however, is not only a political goal, or a question of merely connecting more people to the Internet. It should be seen, among other things, as a major engine for economic opportunity. What should our priorities be in order to encourage investment to make developing nations full members of the Information Society? What should our economic objectives be, in order for such investment to make sense? These are clearly relevant issues that should be discussed by all stakeholders. Indeed, the impact of successfully disseminating the use of ICTs throughout developing societies represents such a tremendous win-win opportunity that immediate profit considerations should give way to medium- and long-term strategic thinking that integrates the needs of development with the development of emerging markets. We have an indication of that potential from phenomena like the explosive expansion of cell-phone use among the lower-income sections of Brazilian society due, in part, to innovative schemes such as pre-paid calls. According to the ITU, there is now a vast overcapacity of installed fiber in the world. We should devise creative ways of putting this investment to productive – and socially and economically relevant – use. Promoting the growth of a content-producing industry that intensively uses ICTs may be one of those innovative ways. Brazil, for instance, is actively engaged in promoting the development of content in the Portuguese language and is seeking partnerships with a view to this goal with Portugal and other members of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP). Cultural diversity in the Information Society is an enormously rich source of opportunity for entrepreneurship. Conclusion Other, related challenges common to developing nations include ways to foster in-country collaboration among the various sectors of society on ICT-related activities. International organizations should also redouble their efforts at across-the-board coordination of their own work in the developing world. Last but not least, another major focus of our common effort should be to foster private investment in ICT-related goods and services – including R&D of such goods and services – in developing countries. The digital divide that results from the separation of the information-haves and the information-have-nots is an unwelcome extension of the development gap that already exists in the “analog” world. Yet, the advent of the Information Society is arguably our best tool to seek to correct these domestic and international unbalances. National ICT strategies such as the Brazilian “Sociedade da Informação” programs, as well as a renewed sense of the importance of stakeholders’ partnerships to devise and to implement them, are clearly needed in order to build the future of our countries as full-fledged members of the global Information and Knowledge Society.