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Colombia 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: TIGOFACEBOOK

A sector-defining merger and rapid increases in internet usage have set the stage for Facebook to partner with the Colombian government to further integrate online solutions in the country.

The only event that overshadowed the largest merger in Colombian history of ICT giants—Tigo and UNE in August 2014—was an official meeting in Bogotá between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg and President Santos in February. The visit took place in conjunction with the TigoUNE backed launch of Facebook's Internet.org project in Colombia. The meeting finalized plans to embrace innovative new public-private strategies to promote internet usage and technological development in the country.

Colombia is fertile ground. According to Milicom's Q4 report published in February 2015, the fusion between TigoUNE added $498 million in revenues during 2H2014, and was a key factor in the Colombian operation's 21% growth—more than three times faster than the group, and representing 20% of consolidated revenue.

Following the merger, the group now has in excess of 12 million users, 8 million of whom have smartphone and internet access, according to the group's CEO Esteban Iriarte. Customer demand for mobile data has increased the penetration rate to 32%, up 8% in 12 months, with 288,000 LTE customers at the end of 2014.

The two different metrics of internet consumption are subscribers, with paid data plans, and users who consume internet on demand when required, with the latter registering far higher penetration rates. According the Ministry of Technology, Information, and Communication's (MinTIC) 4Q2014 report, the total number of users in the former category was 5,565,663, and 21,412,556 in the latter. This meant that, in line with TigoUNE's increased penetration, 4Q2014 saw an increase of 401,743 users—a rise of 7.8% over 4Q2014, and a 22% YoY increase of 1,002,019 subscribers at a national level across all data networks

These conditions were widely speculated to be the factors behind Facebook's decision to roll out the program in Colombia. Facebook's internet.org application fits accordingly with TigoUNE and the MinTIC's vision for expanding internet and data usage at a national level, spearheaded by the Ministry's Plan Digital. As of January, all of Tigo's subscribers were able to access, at no additional cost, various tools related to health, education, work and communication through internet.org. The Internet.org program was initially launched by Tigo in Tanzania, and is designed specifically for emerging markets, aiming to bring connectivity to some of the world´s most remote and poverty stricken locations.

The standard applications available on the program include Facebook Light, Messenger, Wikipedia and Accuweather. The applications services are also particular to Colombia, and contain access to various international public health platforms such as UNICEF´s Colombia public health reports, the Ministry for Agriculture's initiative Agronet, an initiative undertaken in partnership with the UN that focuses on nutrition and Agricultural policy developments in the country. It also offers access to the Integral reparations service for victims of armed conflict, as part of Colombia's peace process, by allowing users to recognise their legal rights and keep up to date on the process.