3. Internet heads South
Latin America is getting feverish about the Internet. The number of Internet host computers grew faster in Latin America than any other region of the world in 1999 (Figure 3, top chart) and reached a significant milestone, surpassing one million. Internet users in Latin America climbed almost 14-fold between 1995 and 1999, from just half a million to over 9 million. This Internet expansion is even more striking considering that general economic growth in the region was flat in 1999.
What is driving this rush to the Internet? Falling prices are an important factor. Internet access charges are dropping, more flexible pricing plans have been introduced and local telephone call charges have been reduced for Internet usage in some countries. Innovative marketing ploys, such as bundling personal computers with Internet access subscriptions, are also driving growth. Another factor is growing content. Companies are tumbling over themselves to produce content in Spanish, the world's fourth-largest linguistic group with some 300 million speakers.
|The number of Internet host computers grew faster in Latin America than any other region of the world in 1999
Wiring the masses
Many inhabitants of developing countries either cannot afford individual Internet service or do not have easy access. There are a growing number of initiatives to overcome this problem by installing Internet terminals in public locations, as well as in cybercafés. This often has the added advantage of mutual support and learning among novice users. Programmes include:
- In Argentina, the government, under the programme "firstname.lastname@example.org" is in the process of finalizing the installation of some 1’000 telecentres which will provide access to the Internet for low-income and remote communities.
- In Barbados, all primary and secondary schools will be IT-equipped during the next seven years as part of the EduTech 2000 project.
- In Belize, the telephone company has ‘wired’ 21 schools. The Internet for Schools program, initiated in 1995, aims to provide all secondary and tertiary educational institutions with free Internet access.
- In Chile, the Telecommunication Development Fund is being used to assist the development of community telecentres, part of a project to provide Internet access to all of Chile’s communes by the year 2006.
- TELECOM in Colombia has a Social Internet programme to take the Internet to all Colombian municipalities. In the poorest municipalities, it provides free Internet access. It is also working with the Ministry of Education to wire 2’000 schools.
- The Red Cientifica Peruana (RCP) has become famous as a result of its public Internet centres. RCP manages 30 and provides support for another 470 such centres, and there are plans to install an additional 400, as well as 5’000 payphone-type Internet cabins.
- In Uruguay, the state-owned telecommunication company ANTEL’s Third Millennium project is installing 25 Digital Community Centres in all state capitals and large cities. They provide access to the Internet and videoconference facilities.