CONNECTIVITY FOR EQUALITY

Colombia 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

Colombia's goal is to employ IT to make citizens' lives easier, not just on an individual level, but also for companies small, medium, or large.

Sylvia Constaín
BIOGRAPHY
Sylvia Constaín holds a degree in economics as well as a master’s in administration from Universidad de los Andes. She is a Fellow of International Relations at Harvard University. She has served in leadership positions at a regional level for Facebook and Apple, and her long career in public service has seen her serve as Minister Plenipotentiary and Head of Relations with the United States Congress, as well as Director of Foreign Investment and Services of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism.

What role will ICT play in the government's plan to develop the economy?
ICT's role is central and takes up a whole chapter in the National Development Plan. If we look at other sectors such as health, education, labor, transportation, and agriculture, technology is all over the place. Our role is to make citizens' lives easier. That is what the digital transformation effort is all about: putting citizens and companies at the center and ensuring the government supports initiatives to make our workforce more competitive and our citizens happier. One of the most important things we are doing within the National Development Plan is a bill in Congress now that modernizes the sector. President Duque has three pillars in his policies: legality, entrepreneurship, and equality. This bill hits equality directly and the others indirectly; as one becomes more connected, things such as fighting corruption become much easier with technology behind them. On the entrepreneurial end, it is easier when the government provides services rather than asking you to do everything. On the equality end, it is hard to find a better tool for equality rather than making sure everyone is connected. Our map of 4G connectivity is extremely concentrated, and a large portion of the country does not have it yet. We are working extremely hard to fix that by changing the criteria by which we assign spectrum and doubling the number of years, plus shifting away from maximizing financial income to reduce the digital gap. That will give us the tools to reach more Colombians and provide more connectivity, and that will make a huge change in terms of the way Colombians live.

How will improved broadband access change the Colombian economy in coming years?
It will make it much more dynamic and innovative. There is a direct link between download speed and innovation. Colombia's download speed is half the global average and one-third of the OECD average, and our goal is to raise it to the OECD average. That one indicator is a huge leap in terms of growth, productivity, and changing people's lives. There are 20 million Colombians who do not have access to broadband right now, and if we can connect them, it will be significant. We also have huge quality challenges as well, so it is not just about connecting more people, but also about connecting them better. That means not just having high-quality connectivity, but also working with the population to make sure it is being used for more than just viral content. It needs to be used for things that improve companies or make someone a professional or a more informed person, getting access to content that they would not have otherwise.

How will the ICT sector continue to be a driver for growth in Colombia?
I do not see us as a sector in itself as much as a facilitator for growth in all other sectors. There is no sector that does not use technology or that does not need innovation; we have to pull that innovation and technology and bring it to all the other sectors. It creates new opportunities for people who may not have had them. That is a big change from where we were used to a certain number of years spent for degrees or certifications. Frankly, if you know how to program, get on board; we need you. We are pushing to help people get excited about it. I am part of a small group of women in tech, and we are convinced that the younger the ages of the girls when we reach them, the more impact we can have, as they consider careers in tech. The number of women versus men in the tech sector in particular is always behind, and not just in Colombia. When one is a woman in tech, they have to do their part to inspire other women and especially younger girls to think about it.