Latin America and the Information Super-Highway


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Latin America and the Information Super-Highway

  1. 1. LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY Submitted to Daniel Wilson, Ph.D. Submitted by Victor Molina A Paper Presented in Partial Fulfillmentfor ITM 598 Forecasting and Evolution of Technology Class ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY February 2003
  2. 2. INTRODUCTION The present paper on ‘Latin America and the Information Superhighway’ isa partial fulfillment for ITM 598 Forecasting and Evolution of Technology class. In the context of this paper, Information Superhigway will be defined asthe group of infrastructural elements that facilitate access to the Internet. The first objective to be met is to trace the origins of the Internet and theWorld Wide Web in the global context. The second objective is to trace the early development of the InformationSuperhighway in the United States of America and how it was extended to LatinAmerica. The third objective is to analyze the interaction between enablingtechnologies, sustaining technologies, and disruptive technologies andconstrains throughout the evolution of the Information Superhighway in LatinAmerica. The relevance of this paper lie in the fact that tracing the origins and earlydevelopment of the Information Superhighway in Latin America, I will be able tounderstand the digital gap that technologically divide the North from the South ofthe Americas.LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 2
  3. 3. FROM THE PAN AMERICAN HIGHWAY TO THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY In 1923, during the Fifth Conference of the Pan American States, aresolution calling for the creation of the Pan American highway, was approved.The United States not only supported but also financed this 16000 miles-in-length network that goes from Alaska to Patagonia. The only gap the projectdoes still have is Darien gap in the Panama-Colombia border. However, by 1960most of the Pan American highway was already in place. The objectives of thePan American highway, among others, are (a) to enhance the communication inthe Americas, and (b) to promote trade. Also, during the 1960s, another network was created. This network is nowcalled Internet. According to Castells (2000) “the origins of the Internet lies in thework of one of the most innovative research institutions in the world: the USDefense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).” (p. 45).One of the most innovative ARPA’s project was developed by Paul Baran in1960-4. Baran’s project consisted in the design of a communication system“independent of command and control centers, so that message units would findtheir own routes along the network, being reassembled in coherent meaning atany point in the network.” (p. 45). By the end of the decade, on September 1,1969, “with the first four nodes of a network being established at the University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles, Stanford Research Institute, University of California,LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 3
  4. 4. Santa Barbara, and University of Utah, the first computer network, namedARPANET after its powerful sponsor, went on-line.” (p. 45). Within ARPANET, the National Science Foundation also created ascientific network called CSNET, and – in cooperation with IBM- one non-scientific network called BITNET. “Yet all networks used ARPANET as theirbackbone communication system.” (Castells, p. 45). During the 1980s thisnetwork of networks was called ARPA-INTERNET, and finally INTERNET.Internet was still supported by the Defense Department but operated by theNational Science Foundation (NSF). However, according to Castells (2000),“having become technologically obsolete after more than 20 years of service,ARPANET was closed down on February 28, 1990.” (p. 45). Finally, the NSFNEToperated by the NSF, became the backbone of the Internet. During the 1990s, being the Pan American Highway almost seventy yearsold, “Vice-President Al Gore, the son of the man behind America’s network ofInterstate highways, was taking a leaf out of his father’s book and turning theInternet into what he called the Information Superhighway through the NationalInformation Infrastructure initiative.” (Gillies, p. 265). This InformationSuperhighway made possible Internet access for most schools and houses in theUnited States. Latin American countries wanted also to be part of this informationinfrastructure with a digital version of the Pan American highway. However, theinfrastructural and technological gap that separated the United States from therest of the Americas was so long and deep at that time that Latin Americancountries once again needed technical and financial support from theLATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 4
  5. 5. Organization of American States, in order to be connected to the Internetbackbone. INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY IN LATIN AMERICA: FROM NSFNET TO RedHUCyT One of the early attempts to extend the U.S. Information Superhighway toLatin America was carried on by the Organization of American States in the early1990s. According to Hahn (1995), “The Organization of American States (OAS)approved the initiative ‘Hemisphere-Wide Inter-University Scientific andTechnological Information Network’ (RedHUCyT, an acronym in Spanish).RedHUCyTs main objective was to connect the member States of the OAS toInternet, by integrating an electronic network for the exchange of specializedinformation among different academic and scientific institutions.” (p. 1). Becauseof it, a close relationship was established between OAS and the National ScienceFoundation Network (NSFNET), which by that time already was the backbone ofthe Internet in the world. The first Latin American countries connected to the Internet through theNSFNET were Mexico (.mx) and Puerto Rico (.pr) in 1989; and Brazil (.br),Argentina (.ar), and Chile (.cl) in 1990. In the following three years almost allLatin American countries were connected to the NSFNET/RedHUCyT Network:Ecuador (.ec) and Venezuela (.ve) in 1992; Costa Rica (.cr) and Peru (.pe) inLATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 5
  6. 6. 1993; Colombia (.co), Jamaica (.jm), Nicaragua (.ni), Panama (.pa), and Uruguay(.uy) in 1994. At the end of the year 1994, the Summit of the Americas, sponsored bythe Organization of American States, was held in Miami, Florida. “Thirty fourHeads of State gathered in this city and signed a Plan of Action which specificallyincluded a chapter for Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure. In thischapter, the governments of the Americas recognize that a countrys informationinfrastructure is an essential component of political, economic, social and culturaldevelopment. The Governments assumed several key responsibilities includingthe effort to encourage major universities, libraries, hospitals and governmentagencies to have access to these networks, building on the work of the OAS /RedHUCyT. ” (Hahn, 1995). In 1995, due to “commercial pressures and the growth of private corporatenetworks, and of non-profit, cooperative networks,” (Castells, 2000, p. 46), thelast government operated Internet backbone, NSFNET, was closed. REFORMS IN THE TELECOMMUNICATION INDUSTRY IN LATIN AMERICA One of the most important steps taken in Latin America toward thecreation of the information infrastructure was the reform in the telecommunicationindustry. Telecommunication companies in Latin America used to be not onlypublic companies but also strategic areas under total control of the State. Thissituation was held until the 1980s, when a privatization wave went over theLATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 6
  7. 7. region. According to Hilbert (2001), “Chile was the first country in Latin Americato sell its state-owned telecommunication company already in 1988.” (p. 18).However, by the year 2000, almost every country in Latin America had privatizedits telecommunication system. Unfortunately, this privatization process was carried in some countries insuch a way that major international or local companies bought Latin Americantelecommunication public monopolies and turned them into private monopolies.According to Hilbert (2001) this trend went against all recommendations towardscompetition in the telecommunication sector, and specially in the fixed linesegment of this sector. TECHNOLOGICAL CONSTRAINS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE IN LATIN AMERICA Most of Latin American gateways have already 56 kbits/s dial-upconnection. However, in some regions of Latin America such as small cities andrural areas, which account for almost 50 percent of the population, telephonelines are not digital but analog. Analog telephone lines allow only 14 kbits/s datatransmission through which Internet is reduced to e-mail but not web browsing.The main reason why some areas of Latin America are being excluded from theinformation infrastructure is because investment in those areas is not profitabledue to the small size of the market, and the low purchasing power as well aspoor e-readiness of their inhabitants.LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 7
  8. 8. Additionally, Hilbert continues, a considerable percentage of home usersand educational institutions do not have in Latin America the economic capacityto upgrade and update their computers as often as it could be needed. In Brazilalone, Hilbert states, up to 44 % of Internet users are still dialing up through 33.6kbits/s or slower modems. This fact has a significantly negative impact in e-commerce sites, which because of their rich image content, cannot be opened bythe common Internet user. As we can see, enabling technologies such as analog telephone lines arestill in control of the information infrastructure in Latin America and that is one ofthe reasons that explain the digital gap. However, companies that offer servicesthrough these enabling technologies are facing serious challenges because ofthe privatization of the telecommunication sector in the region. Despite the factthat low level of competition has been introduced in Latin American market, someprivate companies are already introducing digital lines to the InformationSuperhighway in Latin America. Some relevant cases are Mexico, Costa Rica,Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Internet users in are growing at fast pace in thiscountries and demands generated by this new market are claiming for alternativesolution to the slow change experienced by the telephone infrastructure.Disruptive technologies such as broadband, cable modem and DSL are beingconsidered as a possible solution. These are the new areas of investment forimproving Internet services in Latin America. However, Hilbert (2001) states, onlyChile and Argentina have a good standing cable network, while the rest of theLATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 8
  9. 9. Latin American countries are going to need a considerable investment ininfrastructure before this type of services can be delivered.LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 9
  10. 10. CONCLUSIONS The Organization of American States has played a vital role in theexpansion of communication infrastructure in the Americas, from the PanAmerican highway (1923) to the Information Superhighway (1991). Enabling and sustaining technologies are still dominant in thetelecommunication sector in the region. However, since the reform in thetelecommunication industry in Latin America during the 1980s, digital telephonelines, mobile telecommunication and Internet have introduced disruptivetechnologies that are widely improving the Information Superhighway in LatinAmerica, particularly in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Finally, as it was stated in the introduction, understanding the recentevolution of the Information Superhighway in Latin America is essential in the forfurther forecasting of information technologies in the region.LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 10
  11. 11. REFERENCESCastells, M. (2000). The Rise of the Network Society. (2nd ed.) Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.Gillies, J., & Cailliau, R. (2000). How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.Hahn, Saul (1995, August 7). Networking In Latin America and the Caribbean and the OAS/RedHUCyT Project. The Internet Society [Online]. Available: Nations-Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean/UN- ECLAC. (2001). Latin America on its path into the digital age: where are we? Santiago, Chile: Hilbert, M.LATIN AMERICA AND THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY 11