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Argentina connected
 
 
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The Government of Argentina recognizes the importance of broadband for social and economic development, and last year launched a major plan to increase broadband connectivity for individuals, businesses, educational institutions and government offices across the nation.

Developments in broadband and digital television

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presented the country’s National Telecommunication Plan Argentina Conectada (Argentina Connected) on 18 October 2010. The plan combines under a single connectivity initiative several other efforts already under way, the main thrust of which is public investment for the deployment of communications infrastructure, equipment and services. In particular, it integrates ongoing programmes aimed at digitizing terrestrial broadcasting, providing information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and training to public-school students, extending connectivity to remote areas, and establishing public access ICT centres.

The strategic orientations of Argentina Conectada are digital inclusion; optimizing use of the radio-frequency spectrum; developing universal service; national production and creation of employment in the telecommunication sector; training and research in telecommunication technologies; infrastructure and connectivity; and capacity building.

In order to give effect to the plan, the government has declared the development, implementation and operation of the federal fibre-optic network entrusted to the Empresa Argentina de Soluciones Satelitales SA (AR-SAT), a government-owned corporation, to be a public interest project.

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Carlos Lisandro Salas, Argentina’s Secretary of State for Communications, with Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of ITU

President Cristina Fernández says with great pride, “The Plan ‘Argentina Connected’ means above all the democratization of access to information and communication technologies for all sectors of our society.” The plan is built upon the premise that the development of broadband requires not only the availability of basic data transport infrastructure and affordable connectivity services, but also appropriate applications and content, a large installed base of terminal equipment, and the expansion of ICT skills among citizens.

Argentina has a long tradition of well-developed public utilities, and ranks high within Latin America in broadband adoption. In September 2010, the number of residential broadband connections reached 4.5 million (an increase of 30 per cent from the previous year) in a population of some 40 million.

Rolling out a 12 000 km fibre-optic network

The plan directs the investment of more than USD 1 billion (ARS 4.24 million) over five years to expand broadband Internet access and free-to-air digital terrestrial television to the whole country.

The investment will be used in rolling out a 12 000 km fibreoptic network — to which must be added the further kilometres laid under capacity acquisition and exchange agreements with provincial and private operators — and installing 47 digital transmission towers to provide 75 per cent of the country’s population access to the free-to-air digital terrestrial television service, according to the President.

AR-SAT will deploy and operate the new fibre-optic network. Under the terms of the project, AR-SAT will fulfil connectivity demands in the public sector and operate under open network principles in the wholesale data transport market. This strategy is complemented with financial incentives to local operators to encourage them to provide last-mile connectivity and to establish public access centres across the country. The goal is to expand broadband access to more than 10 million households by 2015.

The role of satellite

In April 2011, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré visited the INVAP facilities in the city of San Carlos de Bariloche in the Province of Río Negro to see how, Arsat-1, the Argentine geostationary satellite is being built. He also toured AR-SAT’s Earth station and satellite control and monitoring centre in Benavídez in Buenos Aires. Arsat-1 is planned for launch in mid-2012, and will provide data transmission, telephone and television services mainly across all of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.

“Satellites provide invaluable solutions, particularly in hard to-reach rural areas and for essential backhaul capacity needed by other operators. We will closely pay attention to the whole process until its launch,” Dr Touré said at the “Telecommunications Forum 2011: Argentina Connected” in Buenos Aires on 27 April, where he was invited by the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services. “The success of this project will confirm that developing countries have the knowledge and the tools to participate on an equal footing with developed countries in sophisticated technological markets. We hope that AR-SAT, which is playing a leading part in this project and is a Sector Member of the ITU Development Sector, will be soon sharing its experience with the rest of the ITU family,” Dr Touré added.

Free-to-air digital terrestrial television

The National Government, through the implementation of open digital television, will foster democratic access to communications, as a tool for social inclusion, providing all the country’s inhabitants with the opportunity to enjoy free-to-air digital terrestrial television, with diversity of information and high picture and sound quality.

In contrast to what has happened in most countries that have switched from analogue to digital television, in Argentina the technological leap began with the poorest households. Before the 2010 Football World Cup, the government distributed free converter boxes so that families with the least resources could use the new technology on their old television sets.

According to Télam, the national news agency of Argentina, by May 2011 the government had distributed 400 000 converters to low-income groups, so now more than one million Argentines have access to the free-to-air digital terrestrial television service. The digital signal now covers a population of more than four million. The 18 transmission towers installed to date allow 15 free signals to reach homes that previously had no access to television or could only watch one channel. There are also plans to distribute 120 000 special converters to people with visual or hearing impairment.

The transition from analogue to digital broadcasting was considered by the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Hyderabad, India, in May–June 2010, as one of the key issues for the Americas region. “In this sense, we know that Argentina is working with all the countries that have already adopted the ISDB-T International standard on speeding the transition. The ITU, where this standard was approved, is ready to support a smooth transition through the identification of appropriate mechanisms of conversion; the elaboration of comprehensive guidelines; and the training of human resources; among other activities,” says Dr Touré.

ITU support for digital inclusion in Argentina

The ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) has long collaborated with the Secretaria de Comunicaciones (SECOM) in Argentina. Since 1998, ITU has worked with SECOM to help install community technology centres throughout the country. A USD 3 million cooperation project, signed in 2010, aims to help reduce the digital divide.

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View of the main antenna transmitting free digital television signals in high or standard definition, on the roof of the Argentine Social Development and Health Ministry with a steel sculpture of Evita in Buenos Aires

In line with the National Telecommunication Plan, and working together with national, provincial and municipal governments, ITU and SECOM’s Programa Sociedad de la información (PSI) is now equipping 19 nucleos de acceso al conocimiento — NAC (knowledge access centres) in public spaces, such as community centres, throughout the country. These centres will provide free public access to ICT, and hence to knowledge, entertainment and training, thus fostering people’s capacity to learn, develop skills, and participate more fully in community and civic affairs.

Each centre will contain: a computer laboratory and training room; a Wi-firoom for those wishing to connect with personal computers and mobile devices; an audiovisual room with access to free-to-air digital terrestrial television; and the latest generation game consoles. “I am very pleased with ITU’s ongoing collaboration with SECOM on this project, which fully reflects our commitment to bringing the benefits of ICT to all members of the community, so that they can fulfil their potential and are empowered to make a valuable contribution to society. The Connect Americas Summit, which will be held in July 2012 in Panama, will provide an opportunity to boost investment and foster partnerships for similar projects throughout the region,” said Brahima Sanou, Director, of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Among other e-inclusion strategies, ITU/ BDT and PSI/SECOM are, in particular, cooperating to foster the digital inclusion of women and youth living in poor, rural or isolated communities.

Universal service, a fundamental tool for digital inclusion

Universal telecommunication service plays a key role as one of SECOM’s strategic objectives and constitutes a fundamental tool for the regulator in fostering universal access to ICT. The major objective of the universal service programmes is to promote digital inclusion for groups of people who are deprived of access for geographical, social or economic reasons. The programmes range from building infrastructure to providing connectivity for specific population groups and for institutions such as schools or public libraries. Furthermore, universal service is a dynamic concept whose aims can be adjusted to keep track of social changes and the policy requirements they generate in relation to the use of ICT.

Implementing the National Telecommunication Plan

Argentina Conectada is the product of months of collaboration among many government agencies and extensive consultation with the private sector, academia and other civil society organizations. This multi-stakeholder approach is reflected in the plan’s implementation strategy.

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services, the Planning and Strategic Coordination Commission will be responsible for the overall implementation of Argentina Conectada. The Commission will articulate the efforts of several working groups, which bring together government and non-governmental actors. These groups will focus on the plan’s strategic goals: digital inclusion for all citizens; optimizing use of the radio-frequency spectrum; integrated management of universal service; creation of employment in ICT, in particular in research and development, and in content creation; and fostering competition in telecommunication services.

Clearly, the government has a key role to play in promoting balanced growth of the broadband ecosystem and in ensuring that the benefits of such growth are widely distributed across all the country’s provinces and social groups. This is exactly what Argentina Conectada does by:

  • orienting private investments to ensure wide regional coverage of advanced services;

  • promoting service affordability and appropriate service quality benchmarks;

  • stimulating broadband demand through complementary investments in digital literacy, content and applications, research and development, and public access centres.

Argentina Conectada provides an example that has elements which should appeal to both developed and developing countries. The regulator plays a key role, which will evolve as implementation progresses.

Emergency telecommunications in the Americas

Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau

At a workshop on emergency telecommunications, hosted by the Government of Argentina in the beautiful city of Mar del Plata on 29 August 2011, I was pleased to see so many of our Member States come together to share with us their recent experiences in responding to disasters. The event was jointly organized by ITU and the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL).

Emergency telecommunications can contribute hugely to reducing risks and building disaster preparedness, through early warning and disaster response. During my term of office, I have prioritized emergency telecommunications, linking our efforts in that area with our development work.

I believe that there is no meaningful development work that does not take into account effective disaster management for public safety. Earthquakes in Costa Rica, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru and Chile have claimed thousands of human lives, displacing households and entire communities, and destroying basic infrastructure. Heavy rains, floods and typhoons in Colombia, Suriname, and the entire Central America and Caribbean regions have resulted in untold human suffering and economic loss.

Thanks to the support of the ITU membership, we have been able to assist countries in the region to more effectively respond to emergencies. But more needs to be done, in the spirit of the decisions of the World Telecommunication Development Conference and the 2010 Guadalajara Plenipotentiary Conference, to prepare countries to cope with disasters and to reduce their impact. This could be through rolling out national emergency telecommunication plans, multi-hazard early warning systems, national climate adaptation plans, and e-waste programmes. Bringing all these efforts together in a national telecommunication plan would streamline their deployment and reinforce their effect.

 

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