Attracting investment to advance digital transformation, generating virtuous partnerships and spreading digital responsibility are three of the fundamental pillars in the development of the telecommunications industry. Our sector is key to closing gaps through connectivity, advancing inclusion in rural and remote areas and engaging underrepresented minorities. In this way, the internet and digitisation become essential to move steadily towards a fairer and more developed society.
To share these and other key aspects, on 6 June, Telefónica Hispanoamérica participated in various OECD forums to present our vision, share experiences and point out what we believe is the most appropriate route to achieve this, hand in hand with governments, international organisations and other players in the digital ecosystem.
Thus, we participated in the fifteenth edition of the International Economic Forum on Latin America and the Caribbean of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, where we stated that Latin America needs a “double green and digital transition, but above all a fair one”, which in our view will be achieved by significantly increasing the level and quality of investments, This requires modern and flexible regulatory and public policy frameworks that allow for legal certainty to facilitate long-term investments and, equally or almost more importantly, differentiated government measures aimed at ensuring inclusion, especially digital inclusion, of the sectors of the population that need it most.
The forum, held in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the French Development Agency (AFD), brought together leading international figures from various industries, including telecommunications.
From the point of view of digitalisation, we consider the importance of connectivity to address inequality: in rural areas of the region, barely 35% of people have access to the internet, and in some countries this figure is only 10%. For this reason, we highlight the need for public policies and strategic alliances that revolve around three axes: innovation, cooperation and sustainability. This is what we developed in our Rural Manifesto, Telefónica’s proposal to expand network coverage and promote inclusive development in Latin America. In addition, we share Telefónica’s experience in Peru with “Internet Para Todos“, as an example of a successful public-private partnership to promote access to quality connectivity for the most vulnerable sectors of the population, using sustainable business cases to extend quality networks in rural areas that otherwise could not be served.
Expanding digitisation through partnerships
We also presented our perspective on the challenges for the development of connectivity facing the region, that is key to advancing inclusive digital transformation.
Telefónica is currently giving a new meaning to collaboration and joint work in the telecommunications sector, as it allows us to reach more people, faster and with better services. In Telefónica Hispanoamérica we have developed a successful collaboration with other companies such as KKR, to operate ONNET Fibra, the first wholesale fibre optic network open to all operators in Chile and Colombia.
The results of this alliance are impressive; in the case of Chile, we have passed more than three million homes with fibre and deployed more than 35 thousand kilometres of fibre optics. In Colombia, we have already reached the figure of more than two million homes passed in 43 cities and we expect to reach four million homes passed in 90 cities in the country by 2024.
More investment in connectivity equals more digital inclusion
At Telefónica, we know that the private sector can be a great ally of Latin American governments to address the many economic, social and environmental challenges facing the region. To this end, new industrial policies are needed to encourage greater investment in green and digital technologies, driving innovation and helping to develop new sustainable economic models to advance the triple transition – digital, green and social.
In the framework of the OECD Emerging Markets Network (Emnet) Latin America group meeting, we addressed this enormous challenge, highlighting the need to provide legal certainty and advance in regulatory improvement as key elements to attract investment. We are aware that Latin America faces an important challenge in these aspects: governments must work to define better public policies that do not increase regulatory costs unnecessarily and have a solid institutional framework that generates a favourable environment for investment. Currently, the tax burden faced by the telecommunications sector in Latin America is extremely high, much higher than that faced by other industries. A key element of this tax burden relates to the cost of spectrum, one of the basic inputs for the provision of mobile services. The cost of mobile spectrum in Latin America is extremely high relative to other regions, and this high-cost drains resources that the industry could use to invest in deploying networks. In some countries, the high cost of spectrum even calls into question the financial sustainability of operators. It is essential to review spectrum policy, to stop seeing this basic input as a source of tax revenue and start seeing it as an enabler for the digital and productive transformation of countries. If governments want a successful deployment of 4G and 5G networks that contribute to the economic and productive development of their countries, they must make sufficient spectrum available to operators, at a reasonable price….
Attracting more sustainable investments to the region will allow us to close the large digital gaps that still persist, such as the coverage gap (4% in 2021, according to the GSMA 2022 Mobile Economy Latin America report) and the usage gap (36%, according to the same report).But to close them, large investments are needed, which the telecoms sector cannot tackle alone but needs other players to contribute to make these investments sustainable. In addition, we still see a large gap in usage and digitisation levels between urban and rural areas in many Latin American countries. From our position and knowledge of the region we work to spread these important messages and find innovative approaches to develop partnerships to help accelerate and achieve the connectivity goals that organisations such as the OECD are promoting in the region.
Rights in the digital world for the benefit of everyone
Along with connectivity, a key aspect of digital inclusion is the development of digital skills, but also awareness of the challenges and risks of the future we are already living in.
This is why we also took part in the OECD’s Global Technology Forum, an event that brought together the top science and technology officials from the United Kingdom, Spain, Ukraine and the United States, accompanied by the OECD’s Deputy Secretary-General.
We firmly believe that emerging technologies offer our societies enormous benefits in terms of productivity and development, but also create risks that need to be anticipated and controlled. Examples of these are the massification of Artificial Intelligence through platforms such as ChatGPT, the adoption of immersive technologies such as the metaverse, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, or the consolidation of the use of autonomous vehicles and “robots”, which generate new and unpredictable social challenges.
We therefore also see international cooperation as the key to ensuring that the adoption of new technologies is positive for society, managing the various risks and associated concerns in a fair and sustainable way so that they reach all sectors of the population.
Our dream as a company is for the internet to be truly for everyone, and to impact the communities of our region with innovative and disruptive models. Our banner is the digital inclusion of the whole society and, therefore, day by day and step by step, we express our commitment to closing the gaps in Latin America, through tangible actions, successful results and responsibility as one of the main and transversal axes of our actions.