Latin America and the Caribbean must make urgent progress on inclusion and digital transformation, based upon regional integration and international cooperation, in order to tackle the crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and to achieve development with equality and environmental sustainability, authorities and international officials asserted today during the inauguration of the Seventh Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, organized by ECLAC and the Government of Ecuador and which will take place virtually through Thursday, November 26.
“No society can achieve development today if it stays on the sidelines of digital technology; that is why it must be within everyone’s reach, without any kind of exclusion. No one can lag behind,” the President of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, said in a message transmitted during the opening ceremony.
“I applaud this gathering of ministers from the region because we will all benefit from it. Together we can define and strengthen regional policies, so they are democratic and inclusive. Millions of people will be grateful for this,” said the leader of Ecuador, whose country is taking over the Presidency of the Ministerial Conference for the next two years.
In her remarks, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), indicated that “the current juncture, marked by a deep crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has pointed up the relevance of digital technologies and how their use has been essential for the functioning of the economy and society.”
Nonetheless, one-third of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population still has no access to the Internet, she underlined.
Andrés Michelena, Minister of Telecommunications and the Information Society of Ecuador, warned about “the real and potentially tragic possibility that this crisis may ruin a generation of Latin Americans.” He added that “this regional meeting poses a huge challenge: moving from words to deeds. Without public and private resources, and without the financial leverage of multilateral and regional organizations, the path will be rough and difficult.” For that reason, Ecuador proposes creating a Latin American fund for the rural deployment of telecommunications infrastructure, with at least 1% of GDP from each cooperating country, to reduce the digital gap, he explained.
Karen Abudinen, Minister of Information and Communication Technologies of Colombia, also stressed the importance of connectivity and digital transformation upon sharing some of the main initiatives for digital inclusion that her country has carried out. “Connectivity is equity,” she affirmed. “We are proud to be able to hand over this Presidency to Ecuador,” added Abudinen, who expressed her certainty that this country will pursue a clear agenda to enable continued progress on digital equity.
In a presentation entitled “Digital technologies for a new future,” made after the inaugural ceremony, Alicia Bárcena revealed that there are more than 40 million households in the region that have no connection, half of which are found in the two poorest quintiles of the population.
Data from ECLAC’s Regional Broadband Observatory indicates that 77% of rural households are not connected to the Internet, along with 42% of people under 25 years of age and 54% of those older than 66.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stated that mobile and fixed broadband service for the first and second quintiles costs 14% and 12% of their income, respectively. In addition, one-third of the region’s countries do not meet the download speed requirements needed for using digital solutions.
“This has social repercussions of great magnitude. Forty-six percent (46%) of children between 5 and 12 years of age live in households that have no connection. More than 32 million children cannot access distance learning solutions,” Bárcena noted, setting forth three major challenges for the region today: universalizing access to digital technologies and their affordability; making progress on digitalization for environmental sustainability; and achieving a real productive digital transformation.
“A basic basket for the population that has no connection would have an annual cost of around 1% of GDP in the region,” ECLAC’s highest authority indicated, emphasizing the need for digitalization to be fully incorporated into productive processes. “The pandemic will lead to massive destruction of the productive fabric. Some 2.7 million companies are forecast to close, which will prompt the loss of 8.5 million jobs,” she stated.
During the ministerial conference, participants are expected to approve the eLAC 2022 Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean, providing continuity to a regional process begun 15 years ago.
“The dimensions of the regional digital agenda that we must pursue and prioritize are the building of internal capacities, the inclusion of all stakeholders, and international cooperation,” Bárcena asserted. “We must think about how we use digitalization, how we transform what we are doing on digital matters and put it at the service of a post-pandemic recovery that would be based on environmental sustainability and equality, and inclusion.”