The XII Ibero-American Business Forum took place this week, under the umbrella of the XXVI Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government, at Antigua (Guatemala). Under the heading: ‘A thriving, inclusive and sustainable Iberoamerica’, Telefónica has participated in the panel about “The digital ecosystem – strategic pillar for economic growth”, where the need for redefining the digital agendas of the Latin American countries was discussed.
This new era of digital disruption places connectivity and data are at the core of the technological, economic and social transformation. Of the nearly 8 billion people living on the planet, over 5 billion have mobile phones and around half of them have internet access. At the heart of this technological revolution, connectivity and data have been established as the backbone of the economic and social transformation affecting all corners of the world. However, not all regions are making the most of the opportunities created by digitalisation. Latin America is an example of this.
Latin America cannot be left behind at this moment of opportunity offered by digital transformation. The way to combat this situation involves the redefinition of Digital Agendas to ensure that our prosperous, inclusive and sustainable digital society becomes a reality.
At Telefónica, we believe this debate should take into account three structural levels:
1. Development of the necessary foundations for the digital economy
The foundations of the digital economy must be based on three essential pillars: the adaptation of the model of governance to the digital economy, meaning its intuitionalism; digital connectivity focused on the development of an infrastructure network and its expansion to all the geographic areas, and the training of human capital.
The adaptation of institutionality means giving preference to the digitalisation of the economy and establishing an institutional design in keeping with the new digital reality for organizations and agencies. This system must reflect the policy priorities of the Digital Agenda in the highest levels of government, in order to promote the coherence and coordination of the initiatives from different administrative entities.
Similarly, the deployment of infrastructure to bring Internet to rural areas is essential to promoting digital inclusion. As a global telecommunications operator, Telefónica positively impacts the fulfilment of the 9th United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, dedicated to industry, innovation and infrastructure. The company has made this evident with programs such as “Internet for All", an initiative born of public-private cooperation, with which we have already connected over 100 million people in Latin America.
We are sure that the way to close the digital divide without leaving anyone behind is to combine innovation and public-private cooperation, especially for infrastructure projects, which represent important mid- and long-term financial needs.
2. Speed up the digitalisation of the economy
One of the keys to streamlining the process of digitalising the economy is the establishment of measures and programmes to digitise and simplify the administration and public services, using Big Data tools (Data Driven Public Services). With a new model of “data driven public services” the public sector must push the digital transformation of the economies. An example would be the establishment of governmental programs to apply technologies and digital tools to improve the overall efficiency of the digital economy. These initiatives allow us to improve the productivity of businesses and industries, encourage the emergence of new business models.
Another objective of the throttle of digitalisation is creating a suitable environment for the birth, formalisation, growth and internationalisation of entrepreneurial projects in e-commerce and digital services, leading to digital innovation. To ensure the development of technological entrepreneurship ecosystems, Telefónica has been the first multinational corporation in the region to support entrepreneurship, through both its Telefónica Open Future business and its Wayra academies. We want to continue to contribute to this phenomenon, but we need to have public policies (especially regarding taxes) suitable to the proper development of open innovation and the expansion of entrepreneurial companies.
3. Ensuring the sustainability of the digital economy
The third level of essential elements in a digital agenda should adopt some measures that ensure the sustainability of the digital economy. This involves the definition of a legal framework applicable to data flow and cross-border digital services, and a tax policy applicable to the current digital context. This tax framework must encourage innovation and promote growth in the digital ecosystem.
In order to redefine a new tax policy for digital services, we supported at Guatemala’s Business Forum that it would be very timely that Ibero-American General Secretariat calls and creates a working group of the Iberoamerican Network on Tax Policy to assess the tax risks applicable to this new services and digital agents.
The adoption of this Digital Agenda must be addressed from the perspective of a State policy to ensure their continuity beyond individual governments, so that they serve as the reflection of their vision for the country.
Overall, provided Telefonica’s long history in the region, both as a main investor and incumbent operation, we call for redefining public policies aimed at developing, speeding and ensuring the sustainability of the digital economy. This will create new opportunities for economic growth, based on the push of the digital services revolution.