sábado, 1 de junio de 2019

Broadband in Guatemala: new challenges to advance

The digital era has made broadband a global necessity, yet, many countries are still struggling to cope with this technology. We analyze the case of Guatemala in collaboration with Natalia Gámez, from UPF. The Latin American case is very useful to show the universalization of broadband everywhere, taking in consideration applications like e-commerce and uses in rural and sustainable tourism.
In the framework of the Broadband Society, Guatemala is a country in which the political and economic condition of the same highly influences and limits the telecommunication system of the country, as in many other third world countries. In CECABLE we are collaborating with Latin American research centers to improve communication and telecommunications.
Factors as corruption and violence drive away possible investment and years of underinvestment as well as little and poor governmental and private infrastructure in rural areas makes it have one of the lowest teledensity in Latin America. 
Properly telecommunications in the country some context will be provided. Guatemala is the most populated nation in Central America and is a unitary state with a representative democracy as a political system. is highly centralized and the country possesses few cities. Almost half of the population lives in rural areas, 47.97%, in 2016, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, were telecommunication services are many times restricted. 
Guatemala has also other problems as poverty levels. Currently, the poverty levels reach 82.7% of the population (of which 23.4% live in extreme poverty conditions) something that can explain the low levels of internet penetration in the population: only 20% (as of 2016). As compared to the rest of Latin America, Guatemala is at the position 18 of the 26 Latin American countries in the Broadband Development Index, made by the Inter-American Development Bank. Additionally, the average speed of broadband in Guatemala is 3.32 Mbps. In more developed areas of the country, as in the capital city, the average speed is of 8,31/4,73 Mbps. This data on the internet speed clearly shows the wide national inequality that exists in terms of access to the internet.
In spite of the low levels of internet penetration there has been a 2% yearly national increasing trend of internet users in the country in the last 16 years, as the table shows (data was estimated as of July 1 2016). It is important to consider that by internet user the data considers any individual who previously had no access to the internet but now does so through any device. Yet, Guatemala’s number of households with access to the internet in 2016 is still way below the Latin American average as the graph above makes visible. Guatemala, has the fifth lowest percentage of number of households with access to the internet over the total population from 2010 to 2016.
In terms of mobile phone penetration, Guatemala has very high levels, with respect to its internet penetration percentage, reaching 119%, meaning, in theory, that all individuals possess at least 1 mobile phone. This mostly due to necessity given that in most rural areas there is no access to fixed-lines. 
Of all telecom services Guatemala’s most develop sector is the mobile telephone market. This sector possesses the biggest amount of voice lines and the internet access lines. The Guatemalan 1996 legislation declared that all telecom sectors had to be open to competition. So currently, the private sector in Guatemala controls all telecom services. 
Both the fixed internet services as well as the mobile phone services in Guatemala are managed by three operators: America Movil, Telefónica and Millicom, which are known as Claro, Movistar (or Tuenti, a budget mobile phone operator which was launched in the country in 2017) and Tigo (respectively) in Guatemala. Of the three, Tigo has the first broadband, pay TV and mobile market position in the country. 
It is important to acknowledge that America Móvil has bought Telefónica Guatemala and El Salvador the 25th of January of the present year, for 570 million euros, and the consequent management of the Telefonica’s operators has still not being made public. 
In terms of 3G and 4G connections in Latin America, Guatemala has the second lowest percentage of 4G connection coverage in the region. Yet, the coverage of 3G connection is relatively similar to that of the rest of the region.
The competition between Tigo, Movistar and Claro has reduced the costs of the services for the users and ameliorated the services of the same; yet, mobile internet services prices are still high when compared to Europe or the US. Tigo internet plans of 4GB can cost up to 28 euros. Affordability, is measured in the graph below, where the greater the bar, the more percentage income that the average person in the country has to spend in order to obtain the service. As shown in the same, Guatemala’s fixed broadband rates as a percentage of GDP per capita are relatively high when compared to the rest of the region.
Other good indicator of affordability is the minimum rates of prepaid mobile broadband data plans as a percentage of the current legal minimum wage, figure 9 and 10 were gathered by a study conducted by UN on the State of broadband in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet, it is important to know that the majority of the population works in the informal sector (69.9% of the active population, as of 2016) where such wage doesn’t apply. So, the data most be examined with a grain of salt. 
The country level management of broadband as in the private sphere has exacerbated the digital divide of the poor rural areas, especially in terms of access to the internet. This because in those rural poor areas private companies rarely see commercial interests and therefore don’t invest and also because of the lack of government investment in the villages ignored by the private sector. These two problems have led to the creation of telecommunications segregation in the state, having many rural villages with poor or non-existence internet, radio, TV or telephone services. Nevertheless, the increase in the internet users that has occurred in the last 10 years may turn things around. The augmentation in the demand may be a reason for private enterprises to increase its investment in the country. 
According to a study made by the UN (Estado de la banda ancha en América Latina y el Caribe 2016), Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Bolivia, had the highest growth rates of the number of homes connected to the Internet, from 2010 to 2015. All countries having very low penetration rate at the beginning of the period. 
In the same way, Guatemala’s mobile phone users have also increased according to a study conducted by GSMA Intelligence on The Mobile Economy of Latin America and the Caribbean 2017. The following graph shows the mobile boosting digital inclusion for the previously unconnected and subscriber penetration and smartphone adoption predictions for 2020. Even if the graph predicts a reduction of the divide, it is important to notice, that strong investment and political action is needed, given that compared to the rest of the region Guatemala still has a big breach. 
In terms of technological advancement, most of the Latin American private management has enabled technological evolution of MBB connections. Yet, Guatemala as many other Latin American countries still depend greatly of international internet traffic, specifically of submarine cables and internet traffic exchange points (IXP). 
Gender inequalities in the use of technologies are also an issue. Guatemala presents one of the greatest gaps in the region with regards to male-female ratios of internet use. The graph below shows that of the total percentage of the internet users in the country the difference between the users that are men and women is of 10%. Guatemala, having the biggest gender gap in terms of the internet access in its zone.
Overall, broadband technology and penetration in Guatemala still has many miles to go, but globalization and the increasing trend in demand of the last 10 years may reduce both the costs of the internet for consumers and producers and, consequently, the digital divide in the country. Nevertheless, the Latin American countries are essential for transoceanic cable.
We analyze broadband evolution (here, the Guatemala case) in this blog, in Research Group about Digital Journalism and Marketing and Broadband and in Research Group on Innovative Monetization Systems of Digital Journalism, Marketing and Tourism (SIMPED), from CECABLE,  Escola Universitària Mediterrani of UdGUPF and Blanquerna-URL, in Twitter (@CECABLEresearch), Google+, in the group of LinkedIn, in the page of LinkedIn, in the group of Facebook, in Instagram (CECABLE), in Pinterest and in this blog. We will go in deep in the XXV Cable and Broadband Catalonia Congress (31 March-1 April 2020, Barcelona).

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