|Latin America II 2003
|Inclusion Is A Good Deal
|Ministry of Communications of Brazil
Digital inclusion is a government duty that makes good economic and social sense. The lack of voice and data access for lower class and isolated populations has forced governments to adopt universalization programs or find themselves on the wrong side of a widening digital gap. Brazil aims for Development with social and digital inclusion and has established universalization obligations for operators, a universalization fund for low payback projects, e-government initiatives, and plans to use interactive digital TV for digital inclusion.
Technological inclusion of society’s lower classes is a governmen4s duty. It is also a question of good sense; without inclusion, markets will be reduced to a series of elite minorities with great purchasing power, but too small in scale to ensure the continuity of business or research. Digital inclusion is not only a question of equal opportunities for everyone; it is also a compelling economic need. Those who believe this, including me, understand the need for a more human form of capitalism as an alternative to a future full of risk and social conflicts of the sort seen in barbarian epochs – but conflicts fought with immensely powerful high tech weapons instead of swords gripped by ragged knights. During the last two decades, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been radically changing the economy and society. People’s standard of living have changed, corporations and organizations are more productive, industrial costs have been cut, efficiency improved, and many markets have gone on-line. The convergence of telecommunications, information technology and media has produced an increasing number of exceptional new products, new ways of doing business and new ways of communicating. The mobile phone, with all its options – voice is only one – clearly shows the sector’s amazing evolution. In spite of the technical progress, social and technological differences among people and regions is increasing and aggravating the existing concentration of wealth, social exclusion, and technological exclusion from the benefits of ICT. The lack of telephone service for lower class and isolated populations has forced governments throughout the world to require incumbent telephone operators to “”universalise”” their operations and provide service for previously excluded populations. Today, similar action is urgently needed to ensure the digital inclusion of large parts of the world’s population. The problem, now, is not just one of providing the poor with communications, but one of giving them access to new ICTs, especially the Internet, and ending digital illiteracy. Unless this is done, thousands of young people will be excluded from the Information Society and the job market. Market mechanisms, by themselves, cannot end digital exclusion; there is no short-term return on investment. Focused, affirmative public policies, though, can provide citizen with access to indispensable ICT services and tools. The Ministry of Communications, and the administration of Brazil’s President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s, is committed to Development with social and digital inclusion. The Ministry’s efforts are focused on promoting universal services and digital inclusion, through the following programs: · General Plan of Universalization Goals – PGMU · Fund for Universalization of Telecommunications Services – FUST · Electronic Government- Care Service for the Citizens – GESAC · Digital TV with interactivity for universalization General Plan of Universalization Goals State telecommunications universalization programs try to meet the needs of excluded citizens. The goal of these programs is to eliminate the geographical gaps and deep socio-economic inequalities of Brazil’s telecommunications market. Brazil has many urban areas where upper-class users live side by side with impoverished people, and rural areas with low-density population and deep social and economic unbalance. Brazil’s universalization programmes are incorporated into the concession contracts granted to operators of public switched telecommunications networks – PSTNs. These contracts have been renewed for the period from 2006 to 2025. The contracts require PSTN operators to meet the universalization goals set by the General Plan for Goals of Universalization – PGMU. The cost for this, though, will be defrayed to some extent by the Fund for the Universalization of Telecommunications -FUST – discussed below. The PGMU requires operators to provide PSTN service in all communities with more than 300 inhabitants. The plan also obliges operators to meet every request for a new line within five days. Other PGMU goals for the 2006-2025 periods include: · Ensure a minimum density of 6.0 public phones per 100 inhabitant wherever the PSTN reaches: · Provide facilities for the handicapped: · Starting in 2006, install one “Public Service Station” for Internet access for each 50.000 inhabitants: · Provide quality residential phone service, at favorable rates, for deprived populations FUST – Fund for Universal Telecommunication Services Because of Brazil’s poor income distribution, universal access to the Internet will not follow the pattern – individual purchases of expensive computers and monthly payments to an Internet service provider – seen in developed countries. Collective Internet access facilities such as schools, libraries, health centers, comminatory centers, public buildings, trade unions and social organizations and cyber centers, or through low cost commercial access points such as cyber cafeterias, cooperatives for servers and the like, are all among the alternatives for access in developing countries. We need to ensure that key people, public officials or not, at all levels of the community can access the net, and acting as middlemen, spread the benefits of Internet access to a wider circle of people. The challenge of providing Internet access to all is one that must be faced immediately. Collective, broadband Internet access points for institutions of public interest will be helped considerably thanks to resources coming from FUST – the Fund for Universal Telecommunications Services. In addition to universal service for both voice and data (Internet), FUST will also help finance other goals included in the PGMU. FUST’s resources will also be used to defray universal telecommunications service costs that, based on the concession contracts, are not the incumbent’s responsibility. Fust’s main source of income is the contribution of approximately one per cent of each operator’s gross operational revenue. The Brazilian Government has designated seven programs – education, health, telecommunications, handicapped care, public safety, border and remote regions and public libraries – that will receive funds from FUST. Through these programs, FUST’s resources will be used to universalise PSTN fixed telephone service and access to high speed, broadband, Internet. FUST might also be used, as needed, to provide terminal equipment, billing and teleconference services. E-Government – Services for Citizens – GESAC GESAC, an electronic government programme, is an important initiative aimed at using satellite links to give Brazil’s population electronic access to government services. Brazil’s earlier e-government programs, during previous administrations, had little social focus; the access terminals were located in municipal facilities and provided only restricted public access. Today, community telecentres, or “Public Service Offices,” give the public access to social and government services. These centres promote universal access to the Internet in communities where the PSTN has not yet reached and encourage the local population to use the Internet and, in general, give access to ICTs for social and personal development. By providing free universal access, these centres contribute to improved standards of living and social development. The centres make available ICT tools that can enable people to resolve many of their problems. The centres also simplify public access to the benefits of social programs, such as the “”Fome Zero,”” or zero hunger, a program launched by Brazil’s President, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. The Public Service Offices stimulate business, promote education, provide services, and enhance communication, mobilization and interaction among people and communities. Using satellite-based broadband access to the Internet, distant schools, advanced military posts, rural and border settlements and hospitals located in the most remote regions have been connected. GESAC telecenters have rooms where ten to fifteen computers are connected. They give people free, unrestricted, daily access to the Internet’s benefits as part of the population’s natural routine. This program has gradually come to serve as a nationwide laboratory where content is developed and programmes tested to make sure the ambitious social inclusion goals supported by FUST can be efficiently met. Universal Interactive Digital TV In 2004, Brazil expects to adopt technical standard for public broadcasting of digital TV. Public TV broadcasts reach 90% of Brazil’s homes and, understandably, is of immense social importance. The Ministry of Communications hopes to quickly decide upon a standard compatible with Brazil’s needs. The Ministry plans to choose among four digital transmission standards including the three major world standards -American, European and Japanese – and are seriously investigating the possibility of a composite, Brazilian standard adapted to the country’s special characteristics and needs. A special, Brazilian standard is being considered as a way to further digital inclusion in a country where few inhabitants have, or can afford, their own PC. Less than 10 percent of Brazil’s population has a PC, but common, broadcast TV receivers abound – there are roughly 1.4 TV sets per home. Given these numbers, it makes sense to capitalise upon the extraordinarily high penetration of broadcast TV. By adopting interactive digital broadcast TV standards, broadcast TV could become a powerful tool to speed digital inclusion. In this case, technology is being called upon to provide a social function of high interest: digital literacy. Local standards would stimulate innovation. They would stimulate the development of software for interactive functions and the development of hardware, inexpensive digital TVs. Local standards would also stimulate the development of even less expensive set-top-boxes, to adapt older analog TV sets, and provide access to interactive services, and digital inclusion, to the lower socio-economic classes. To innovate one does not have to reinvent the wheel. Using subsystems based on international standards, MPEG for example, and locally developing technology, such as set-top-box middleware, to adapt it to the country’s digital standard, it should be possible to economically and rationally advance the cause of digital and social inclusion in Brazil. Brazil has the proven engineering, systems and production capabilities to turn its most common household appliance, the TV, into a tool for digital inclusion. Conclusion – Putting Brazil on the Path to the Information Society The Ministry of Communications’ universal service initiatives, incorporated in the PGMU, FUST, GESAC and interactive digital TV programmes, local and state government programmes and numerous private sector initiatives, show there is a genuine Brazilian way to promote democratic and fair inclusion in the Information Society. There is no unique and rigid formula that will spread new information and communication technologies on the social and productive surface. Knowledge and information are the drivers of welfare and progress in Brazil, and with high-level of Government support, is seeking creative ways, tailored to local conditions to promote digital inclusion. Shaping an Information Society with justice and social equity is a difficult task and help from non-governmental organisations, the private sector, civil society and academic institutions is welcome. As Brazil’s President “Lula” declared at the opening, this year, of the 58th UN General Assembly, “We cannot ignore the changes observed in the world, especially the emergence of developing countries as important agents in the international scene”.