ECUADOR - Telecoms & IT
Minister of Telecommunications and Information Society, Ecuador
Jaime Guerrero Ruiz has been the Minister of Telecommunications and Information Society since April 2010. He also presides over the National Council of Telecommunications, which oversees the telecommunications market. He is an electrical engineer specializing in electronics. He completed his graduate studies at Escuela Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL). He attended secondary school at Liceo Naval de Guayaquil. He holds a postgraduate degree in Administration of Telecommunications Systems and Services and has taken various courses in management.
Our Ministry is rather young and has just 100 people working in it. The core reasons behind its establishment were the importance of new technologies and the information society in the development of Ecuador. Some of our top priorities back then were the modernization and upgrading of certain institutions linked to the sector, such as the Civil Register, which deals with the identification of Ecuadorean citizens, Correos del Ecuador (the national postal company of Ecuador), Corporación Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (the public telecommunications corporation of Ecuador), and the National Register of Public Data, among others. Therefore, we can proudly say that the Ministry has become rather iconic within public administration, having performed vital tasks in this sphere. We have eradicated many problems and barriers of the past in official institutions. In this context, many people see the evolution of these above-mentioned institutions as symbolic of national development over recent years. We have updated services, boosted technology, and changed old patterns. In sum, I believe that we have achieved much over the past five years, leading key transformational processes for Ecuador through innovation and our flexibility as an organization. The central government’s decision to establish the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information was a positive one.
According to available data, we have achieved a significant change during a period of unprecedented growth for Ecuador. Internet penetration rose from 6% to almost 70% during this period when we went from being the bottom country in terms of broadband access to topping the table, according to US research. We currently have the fastest internet in the region at 3.6 Mb/s. Overall, our work has been constant and steady, as we had to create all the infrastructure and then provide services that today are available to Ecuadorean society. In another example, five years ago there was only 3,000 kilometers of optic fiber in the country, whereas today the figure has reached 35,000 kilometers.
We have implemented many nationwide programs to democratize technology services such as internet access. In the past, only the wealthy had access to such services. We have changed that by providing free training and infrastructure, and today all citizens enjoy access. For example, we have created the so-called “Info Centers,” spaces to provide training, equipment, and tools to democratize internet access in Ecuador. Today, we are nearing 2 million visits to these centers in a country of 14 million inhabitants. In this context, we have seen a boost in entrepreneurship among citizens of rural Ecuador thanks to these Info Centers, and they can now utilize the network to advertise and sell their products by leveraging the infrastructure that we have installed. Approximately 500 such centers have been established nationwide. Additionally, we have seven mobile classrooms, whose main aim is to reach remote areas of the country to provide internet training and access to people living in remoter areas, which tend to be those on the lowest income. This program received international recognition for its efforts to build an inclusive system for new technologies. Over 250,000 people have already benefited from this program. We have also established the School Connectivity Program, the aim of which is to interconnect all public schools across the country by setting up a special lab within the school with computers and internet access. Currently, 7,000 schools are connected, while at the beginning of our term there were none. Our goal is to reach 9,000 schools by the end of this government’s term. Also, we have already started providing schools with Wi-Fi areas for students, staff, and even parents. So far, the eight largest public schools in the country already have Wi-Fi, and we aim to ensure that all public schools across the country become Wi-Fi spots. This project, alongside the two I mentioned before, impact as many as 5 million people in Ecuador. In this context, one of the main successes of these projects is the involvement level of local communities. For example, in the Info Centers project, the communities themselves are the ones that provide us with a place where we can set up infrastructure, rather than us having to look for it.
I think anybody can learn from anybody else nowadays, and certainly we have learned from the experience of neighboring countries. We know that Colombia has a similar project to our Info Centers, however; they also show movies there. This is something we went on to implement here in Ecuador, too. Additionally, we have also taken this particular project to the next level to allow us to reach underprivileged citizens in urban areas. We created our first “Mega Info Center” in the suburbs of Quito, with an infrastructure six times larger than average Info Centers in rural areas. In this new phase of the project, we will target the urban areas of Ecuador, because we know this kind of infrastructure will boost e-government in the country. Finally, I would add that through such successful projects, we boost the development of the private sector. This is why, in the case of the community Info Centers, the connectivity has been provided by the public enterprise CNT EP, highlighting its social commitment with the provision of equipment and connectivity for the purpose of fostering the democratization of the technologies in order to build an information and knowledge society. In some cases, we have received support and the services provision from private enterprises.
We have structured and organized goals for the near future; for example, we have a nationwide broadband plan targeting SMEs, as we know that many of them do not receive sufficiently high-speed internet for their professional needs. Our goal is to reach the end of the government term with internet access nearing 99%, so we can catch up with what is available in developed countries. Current trends indicate that this will be possible. We are also studying the possibility of tendering a 4G license for a new operator in the country based on sector development. Currently, there are three players in this area, and studies suggest that demand will grow 16-fold over the coming years. Ecuador, therefore, clearly has sufficient potential to accommodate a fourth operator.
© The Business Year – April 2014
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