When it comes to the Internet, the Caribbean and Latin America lag behind: how to change that?

Less than half of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has fixed access to broadband services. Photo by FLY:D, available on Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) as it has affected any other region, highlighting the importance of a resilient and inclusive recovery.

Increasing digital access is the foundation of the drive needed to make this happen, and it requires a comprehensive policy, regulatory strategy and increased spending on infrastructure. This is particularly significant as the region prepares to roll out 5G networks as it continues to expand to 4G.

The need for increased digital access is undeniable: digitalization improves social and financial inclusion, as well as educational and health outcomes. Those who do not have stable Internet sources are at a disadvantage and do not have access to essential services.

Countries with stable access to the Internet record significant progress in almost all sectors such as transport, health, education, entertainment and contribute to sustainable development.

The Caribbean and Latin American Internet: Current Status

In 2019, Latin America and the Caribbean was the fourth largest regional internet market, behind Asia, Europe and Africa.

In June of the same year, the area had more than 450 million Internet users, an increase of about half from 2010. South America, where 72% of the population enjoyed the service, had the highest rate of Internet availability.

However, the barriers are significant: poor and uneven coverage, expensive internet subscriptions and high device costs continue to hamper digital access. Less than half of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean has fixed access to broadband services, and no more than 9.9% have a high-quality fiber optic connection at home.

Although 87% of the population is within 4G signal coverage, actual usage and uptake is still low (3%). In addition, only four out of ten Latin Americans living in rural areas have access to the Internet (51% in Brazil), compared to 71% of the population in metropolitan regions.

There are several reasons why the Internet is readily available or not.

What do Latin Americans and the Caribbean use the Internet for?

The average Latin American spends more than three hours a day online, with mobile devices accounting for the majority of time spent online. As in all parts of the world, the Internet is used in Latin America and the Caribbean for activities such as:

  • Access to social networks – Participating in social networks is one of the most popular internet activities in the entire region. In Latin America, 81% of Internet users used social networks
  • Education – Most information, documents, books and even basic educational resources are found online and have become crucial during the pandemic
  • Purchase – Online retail in Latin America is growing very fast. In 2019, e-commerce sales reached more than $70 billion, with a significant increase during the pandemic. This value will continue to grow, reaching 160 billion dollars by 2025.
  • file download – The Internet is a great place to share images, videos, and other downloadable files, which is crucial in places where the Internet isn’t good enough to support reliable streaming services.
  • News and entertainment – Most people follow events and watch editions of concerts and movies from streaming sites directly from their smartphones or PCs.
  • Access to productivity tools – Another result of the pandemic was the transition to a home office, and later to hybrid work. This made productivity tools available online, from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • interactive games – Games often include multiplayer games, single player games, online casinos and many others.

These are not the only reasons why the Internet is important, nor all of its uses. Internet connection has become a basic element of modern life, necessary to guarantee freedom of expression, political engagement, health and other fundamental human rights.

It provides a vital environment for disadvantaged populations to promote social change and build identity. That’s why access to it becomes important. But how can Latin America address this issue and fill this gap?

Possible solutions

4G

Switching to a 4G network ensures reliable speed and a seamless browsing experience, especially important for those who want to access content such as games, TV shows, movies and perform other tasks that require a broadband connection.

If the connection is still poor after switching to 4G, you can install an antenna on the router or dig deeper to make sure the signals are being picked up.

Modernization of devices

Modern devices have additional features necessary to increase their efficiency. Considering the possibility of modernizing your devices, a Wi-Fi router for example can be a good idea.

Older broadband technology will significantly slow down the connection. Updating your device reduces errors and improves overall connectivity.

leased lines

A leased line is a dedicated circuit from the optical connection closest to your location. Leased lines ensure better connectivity and higher speeds of broadband access.

Leased lines ensure that the internet service does not get interrupted or become very slow. This solution would be ideal for both commercial and residential premises. It would also benefit people who invest in stock markets, sports news, casinos and students.

Companies with a reputation for fast service are likely to attract more customers.

peer-to-peer network

This is an ideal setup for businesses in rural or suburban areas with limited internet access. Point-to-point transmits wireless signals from one point to another within a line of sight.

It can also increase signal strength in a facility, making access to services easier. A stronger signal improves broadband speed.

Anyway, it’s expensive but worth it

Governments and telecommunications companies need to invest more in infrastructure to ensure better connectivity. Durable and reliable infrastructure and systems solve most of the problems that limit Internet connectivity. While the process of renovating or installing the necessary systems is initially expensive, the medium and long-term benefits are worth it.

Guaranteed access to the Internet without any interference or obstacles ensures that people can access all the websites and platforms they need. As the need to connect to the Internet in Latin America grows, so does the demand for reliable services. There is a big gap that needs to be filled by potential investors and the state.

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