Remarks by Angel Gurría,
Secretary General, OECD
21 June 2016
(As prepared for delivery)
Ministers, Colleagues from the Inter‑American Development Bank (IDB), Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here to present the report Broadband Policies for Latin America and the Caribbean: A Digital Economy Toolkit. The report is the result of a successful two‑year partnership between the OECD and the Inter‑American Development Bank (IDB) involving 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. I wish to thank the IDB for the support and commitment it has shown in bringing this initiative to a successful conclusion.
This presentation is taking place at a critical juncture for Latin America and the Caribbean. Having recorded average annual growth of 4% between 2004 and 2014, in 2015 Latin American GDP shrank by approximately half a point, and is expected to shrink at a slightly higher rate this year (‑0.6%). It is therefore vital to implement structural reforms while seizing the opportunities within our grasp.
Across the world, the digital revolution is transforming our economies, our societies and our cultures. But much work lies ahead if we are jointly to make the most of the benefits generated by this change. By way of illustration, the high number of mobile telephony subscriptions in the region – currently more than one per person – shows that the first generations of this technology have already been embraced.
Nonetheless, 50% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean still have no access to the Internet, and only 10% of people in the region have fixed broadband subscriptions. The situation varies greatly between countries, income groups and those living in rural or urban areas, and the promotion of competition among Internet service providers is crucial in order to enable consumers to gain access to a greater range of higher‑quality, more affordable products.
Mexico’s telecommunications reforms illustrate this point well. Since the implementation of the reforms, the price of telecommunications services has dropped by 23% (June 2013-December 2015). Additionally, access to telecommunications technologies has improved: in the first two years of the reforms, the number of broadband mobile subscriptions rose by 75%, from 36 million to 63 million.
One of the key aims of using digital technology should be to reduce inequalities and create opportunities. Good examples of this include the take-up of telemedicine in Guatemala to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality or the expansion of financial inclusion through a mobile payments platform in Peru for people who have no bank account.
In order to extend this work, it is essential to share good practices that empower all stakeholders. The LAC region has many a story to tell and a wealth of experience to share. An excellent example of this are the opportunities created by projects like the one conducted in the city of Medellín, which approached this topic from the perspective of urban regeneration. The question we should ask is how can other cities learn from Medellín’s commitment to innovation and the roll‑out of fast broadband to attract and retain entrepreneurial talent?
Answering questions of this kind was the basic objective of our survey. In setting out some guidelines for designing a whole‑of‑government approach to policies, our Toolkit aims to assist countries in the region to enhance their digital prospects and make progress on international, regional and national policy objectives.
Experience shows that connecting more people in the LAC region requires the provision of not only basic Internet services but also high‑quality broadband services that help businesses, individuals and governments to become more efficient and innovative. Policy makers and regulators have a variety of instruments at their disposal to stimulate and encourage investment, competition and network deployment. They can also take measures to make services more accessible, relevant, usable and safer for individuals and businesses.
In addition to these recommendations, one of the key messages of this report is that successful broadband policies can be a catalyst for making the most of “digital dividends”, including the improved social inclusion, productivity and governance which stem from broadband access and use.
A broader digital ecosystem is vital in order to make the most of these dividends. This means that investment in infrastructure must take account of factors that affect broadband take‑up such as affordability, e‑commerce, e‑government, trust and people's digital skills.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The time is ripe for implementing structural reforms that can stimulate competition and investment and for designing policies that seize the benefits of the digital economy for sustainable growth. It is essential to make sure that opportunities are evenly spread in order to continue to make progress. Let us act together to bring broadband in Latin America within everyone’s reach. The OECD is ready to continue its support for this work through its recently launched Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Programme. You can count on us!