Broadband Initiative Seeks to Close Digital Gap in the Americas

Improving broadband access throughout the Western Hemisphere was a hot topic at the Sixth Summit of the Americas this past weekend.  President Obama announced the creation of the Broadband Partnership of the Americas, a program set to improve Internet access across Latin America and the Caribbean.


…While approximately 80 percent of the Latin America and Caribbean population has access to mobile phones, only 40 percent has Internet access, with levels in Central America and the Caribbean at approximately 30 percent. Broadband penetration is estimated to be 29 percent, falling just below the global average.

Enhancing access to broadband improves development outcomes, fosters economic development and increases competitiveness. The Inter-American Development Bank reports that a 10 percent increase in the region’s broadband subscriptions would boost GDP growth by 3.19 percent and increase productivity by 2.6 percent…

The new partnership will be managed by USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations Program, which will provide financial and technical support for improving broadband strategies.  The initiative also comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s other announcements – Small Business Network of the Americas and Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas – which will promote trade among small businesses throughout the Hemisphere.  There is a special interest in supporting “diaspora entrepreneurs” through the Latino American Idea Partnership (La IdEA) and the Caribbean Idea Marketplace (CIM) business competition platforms.

Of course, there are many critics of the new free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and the “convenient timing” of all of these new initiatives from the White House. However, having better Internet access for budding entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean is a very important issue that needs to be addressed better, and the new partnership attempts to deal with the digital gap.

Global Wire Associates has done work in the past with activists and entrepreneurs in the region, like with Mariam Cotton, a Trinidadian who runs her own catering business outside of Port of Spain.  She is developing her own line of exotic fruit preserves.  When Cotton came to one of our trainings last February, she told us that she is dependent on her mobile phone for contacting clients and online banking.  However, because she doesn’t have regular Internet access, her ability to expand her business and stay current with her competition is limited.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, only 39.5 percent of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have Internet access.  If there was a better broadband strategy in her community, she would be able to build a company website, do online research on how to improve her business and better market her services to potential clients.  We spoke to Cotton again yesterday about the prospects of better broadband access and the hopes that the Obama administration will stay true to their promises.

“I think it is a blessing for me to get online,” Cotton told GWA in a telephone interview.  “I want to be able to connect with more customers and open a restaurant and sell my preserves in Miami one day.  Having the Internet will help me feel more connected with the world.”

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