PUTTING THE BEAT INTO BETA

Colombia 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

Undertaking the country's most ambitious social connectivity program, the Ministry of Information and Communication is spearheading the transformation of the countryside.

Sylvia Constaín
BIOGRAPHY

Sylvia Constaín is an economist with a master's of administration from Universidad de los Andes. A fellow in international relations at Harvard, she is an executive with more than 20 years of international experience in strategy design and execution, government relations, public policy, international negotiations, management, and development. She has been head of public policies for the southern cone for Facebook and manager of government relations for Apple for Spanish-speaking South America. While at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, she was plenipotentiary minister and head of relations with the US Congress. She also served as deputy director of the Commercial Office of Colombia in Washington and as director of foreign investment and services of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.

What were some main areas of focus and milestones in 2019?
2019 was an important year in terms of the development of the telecoms sector in Colombia. We had a major overhaul in terms of regulation and framework. The new regulation features several elements that are crucial for the future of Colombia's telecommunications sector. The first is spectrum allocation, which creates a much more certain environment and allows greater investment. Under the Law of Modernization of the ICT sector (Law 1978 of 2019) our policy has changed from maximizing financial income to maximizing social wellbeing. In 2019, not only were we able to modify the legal framework but we also established a convergent regulator. This was one element the OECD was particularly insistent on. Notably, we set up the entire spectrum allocation process within a few months and created free internet zones across the country. Currently, there are 1,000 such zones in rural areas and 870 in urban ones. The government's policy for the sector can be divided between connectivity and digital transformation. We are undertaking the most ambitious social connectivity program the country has ever seen.

How is Colombia implementing its 5G plan?
Colombia is one of the few countries in the region with a 5G plan. We took a lot of input from different sources and integrated them into our 5G plan. We have already opened an expression-of-interest process for companies, telecoms operators, and anyone else with projects that can bring 5G to Colombia. Once we have those, we will evaluate them and promote them in medium-sized cities. 5G is probably more suited for large cities, but we still encourage thinking out of the box.

What is the government's ambition for Colombia's digital transformation?
We have the WEF-certified Center For the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Medellín. We are creating a digital ecosystem that connects infrastructure and services to enable sharing and analyzing of information needed for IoT. Our goal is to not just be a participant but a leader in Latin America.

How is the ministry ensuring Colombia has the talent to bring IoT to real life?
We are working with the Ministry of Education on several initiatives. One is Coding for Kids, a program that is currently serving 23,000 students in public schools. 30% of these students are from rural areas. In 2020, we aim to cover more than 60,000 students. We need to ensure we have the relevant programs in universities and educational institutions to prepare the youth for the future. Employability is at the root of what we do. In 2020, we will also launch a pilot data science course called Data Science for All. We introduced a similar program online for AI in 2019 and received 50,000 applications for 12,000 slots. This shows Colombians want to learn skills related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are doing this via SENA, our technical education organization. We will continue to find new ways to create the optimal digital ecosystem for a digital society.

How are you implementing digital transformation in the public sector?
Things should start at home, which is exactly what we are doing. President Iván Duque is fully aware of the importance of the fourth industrial revolution, which is why he hired a presidential advisor for digital transformation. Instead of taking small steps forward, we are working with other governments that have successfully applied digital transformation strategies. We adopted the X Road platform from Estonia and the digital government model from Mexico. The digital transformation of the government is based on the fact that what we do has to have an impact on the citizen.