SURF’S UP

Colombia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Diego Molano Vega, Minister of ICT, on increasing the inclusiveness of Colombia's digital revolution.

Could you elaborate on the success Colombia's government has achieved with its transversal policies?

We are implementing a digital revolution in Colombia; an inclusive revolution for all Colombians, especially those of limited economic means in rural areas of the country. This revolution is geared at broadening internet penetration and reducing the cost of access. For example, we increased the percentage of connected Colombian households from 17% to the current 50%, an increase that has had a significant impact on lower-income families. This digital revolution also includes Colombian SMEs, with the percentage of connected companies exceeding 60% today. The digital revolution also impacts education; we plan to distribute 2 million computer units to decrease the current computer deficit from one computer per 24 schoolchildren to one computer for every four schoolchildren. The digital revolution is also linked to public workers and the increase of available e-services. For example, Colombia is a leading country in terms of e-government in the region. Colombia's digital revolution also encourages responsible web usage. For example, we are active in taking measures against children's internet addiction and work on training people to spot the risks and take preventative measures. Thanks to the digital revolution, we also boosted entrepreneurship among Colombians and we are educating as many as 55,000 entrepreneurs as a result of our program. In fact, for our country it is very important to meet the potential of new technologies thanks to the pool of skilled and creative young people we have. There has also been a notable impact for farmers and rural communities in general, where we have set up 7,000 community centers, known as “Digital Kiosks," that boost connectivity in rural Colombia. We will have a fiber internet connection in all our municipalities in 2014. I would also add that our digital revolution includes the disabled, in a bid to increase their participation in daily life, and thus we have nationwide programs to boost inclusiveness in society through new technologies.

How significant is the position of Chief Information Officer, which the Ministry is promoting?

A key strategy of our social transformation is the clear presentation of what areas are being groomed for improvement. In this context, we created a position within the Ministry to structure and coordinate information delivery by the government. These systems are updated, secured, and compatible, and discourage irregularity. They bring together CEOs from public institutions under one umbrella. And today, we are in the process of training these individuals and defining a stronger working structure.

“We are implementing a digital revolution in Colombia; an inclusive revolution for all Colombians."

Colombia stands out as a leading country in technological applications. What have been the main achievements in this field?

Colombia is a regional exemplar when it comes to policy on new technologies, as well as socially inclusive policies. Our main goal is to reduce poverty and create employment by leveraging state-of-the-art technologies. In this regard, we have achieved much by connecting with lower social income groups, and need to provide them with tools to further promote development. The value of the internet is not connectivity per se, but the applications it can deliver. Yet on a global level, the applications currently available don't target our main goal, which is to reduce poverty. Therefore, we have a great potential as a country; we have already provided connectivity to the poorer sections of society and are now promoting the development of tailor-made applications with which to do this. I firmly believe that Colombia has the potential to become internationally recognized in this field in the near future, and expect our applications to be exported worldwide.

What will be the main benefits of the nationwide implementation of 4G technologies?

Recently, we carried out a kind of auction in the 4G field that brought more competition to the sector (from three operators to six) and we have also managed to draft a clearer and more commercially attractive regulatory framework. In this context, operators have already started working and will be able to reach a diversity of social groups across all cities, while also boosting the wider take up of new technologies. This strong interest from operators shows the potential of this segment of the industry, which in the near future will see key advances in the technological development of society.

In your opinion, how beneficial can the Pacific Alliance be for the IT industry?

I think we have a great opportunity to create a single, common IT market within the Pacific Alliance. In other words, to export the local benefits from users in these countries to a regional level and render them universal for all consumers. We should work to create a common digital market for all these countries where consumers, regardless of their location, enjoy uniform benefits when using their mobiles or purchasing items online.

What were the main achievements of the Ministry's “computers to educate" program?

It achieved something very important: a highlighting of the role that new technologies can play in improving national education levels. However, we should keep one thing in mind, namely that providing schools with computers and tablets is only useful if there is a robust strategy behind it to train teachers and provide them with effective tools to actually improve education. In this context, one of the program's lasting achievements is greater public awareness of the potential of new technologies. As a result, we are effectively boosting innovation in the education sector.

How is the policy of subsidizing studies on new technologies structured in Colombia?

The most important consideration to our thinking is to develop talent among our large young population, clearly our nation's greatest advantage. In this context, we try to bring together both things and make sure the country has a deep pool of talent in the IT sector. For example, we run a national program in which students receive programming training at 350 high schools, and where we provide loans to pursue IT-related careers. In fact today, over 5,000 students benefit from these loans, which are non-repayable where studies lead to the development of an actual application for local or national authorities and institutions.

What is Colombia's potential to become a regional IT hub?

Our country has the potential to attract companies such as Microsoft or Google to establish research centers. I think many people already view Colombia as the research and testing center to develop applications that tackle socio-economic problems that leverage the young population.

© The Business Year - April 2014