|Issue:||Latin America II 1996|
In boardrooms and executive offices throughout Latin America subjects that are now being constantly discussed are the “net”, “global information superhighways”, and the obvious opportunities these represent for companies in the region as they develop closer commercial links with organisations in other parts of the world.
ConnectWorld Latin America approached an acknowledged expert, Bill Truesdell, to give our readers some important background notes to the development of data communications services in Latin America. CW: We understand that this entire subject matter is sometimes called computer telephony. Can you explain first of all, what computer telephony means? BT: Sure. Computer telephony is the utilisation of basic telephony systems to link (for example) a computer terminal with its host, allowing for the transmission of data. I’m not sure it is called ‘computer telephony’ so much as ‘data communications’ though. CW: So can you explain what the Internet is then? BT: The Internet is a global web of millions of computers on mostly private networks. Put simply, it is a data communications link between millions of people and organisations, which utilises basic telephony systems to transmit data. Its nucleus was created by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the 1960’s for the exchange of scientific information among researchers. Since then it has progressed into being an international information exchange for data, news and opinions on an infinite number of subjects between an infinite number of people. The business world is now picking up on the opportunities presented by the Internet for selling their goods and services and reaching old and new customers, and I expect that you will see more and more corporations coming on-line as time goes on. CW: How many subscribers does the internet currently have worldwide then? BT: At the moment the estimate is about 20 million subscribers around the world, but this number is currently increasing at the rate of 10 to 20% a month. CW: You mean between 2 and 4 million new subscribers are joining the net each month? BT: That is correct. You must remember though that the number includes all the members of large organisations which have access to the net, whether they use the system or not. Take large universities for example. If the university itself is linked onto the system, all the students are deemed to have access to the net and are therefore included in the figures, whether they currently use it or not. Despite this anomaly though the number is still formidable. CW: Staggering. Now moving on, one hears a lot of talk about the World Wide Web; what exactly is this? BT: Well, the World Wide Web (WWW) is a system of servers that provide formatted electronic documents containing graphics, sound, digital video and hypertext links to users running compatible client software. CW: And how does one get onto the internet? BT: You need to approach an Internet service provider. A company like CompuServe for example. CW: Is CompuServe the only company which can arrange for access to the system? BT: By no means, but the company was the first to offer electronic mail interchange via the internet, and has a very wide range of on-line services available. CW: Such as? BT: Well first of all there is a mailing service which allows members to send and receive messages 24 hours a day, regardless of distance or time zone. There is a special interest service which covers such diverse topics as humour, rock music, auto racing and science fiction. Especially popular are those areas which cater to a particular profession such as law or medicine. In fact sometimes even live on-line conferences are held, many of which feature distinguished speakers! There are also the immensely popular interactive electronic chatline services which allow you to communicate with people all over the world, in addition to news, sports, travel, weather, and classified advertising services. Even a door-to-door driving directions service – the list goes on and on. CW: What about specific business services? BT: “These are being developed all the time now by server companies but, as I mentioned above, there is still some way to go in convincing the commercial world as a whole that the internet is for them. The commercial usage of the system is still in its relative infancy, as shown in a recent market study which concentrated on the success a mail order company has had using the internet. Although it is accepted that the opportunities for the future are huge, currently sales via the internet only amount to $150 million whilst sales generated via a printed catalogue can add up to $billions. CW: How easy is it for individuals or companies in Latin America to access the system? BT: I’d love to be able to say that it is easy, but as yet that is not entirely true. Part of the problem is the structure on which the system works – the basic telephony system. If half your telephone calls get connected to the wrong number anyway because the telephone system is worn out, you obviously but unfortunately will not be able to get a particularly efficient service on the internet. Another part of the problem is money. Because of the way the system works (users only pay local telephone rates, regardless of where data is being sent to or received from), PTTs are obviously wary of the loss of cashflow a boom in internet user connections would bring upon them, and so have been slow in promoting the concept. However this attitude is changing now as governments do not want their countries to be left behind as the “global information superhighway” takes off, and so are encouraging participation. Countries where I know you can currently access the internet in Latin America via Compuserve are Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico. Brazil will follow shortly. CW: Thank you for talking to us, and do you have any final words about the internet in Latin America? BT: “I think it will become one of the most important tools that South American businessmen will have in the new commercially outgoing atmosphere of the region. The internet is a very powerful networking instrument, and I am sure that this point is keenly understood by the majority of businessmen throughout the region.