5 min. read.
Today the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) presented the first region-wide data analytics mapping tool for digital connectivity across 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The tool, known as the ConectaLAC platform, will help governments and investors identify digital connectivity gaps and design cost-effective projects to close gaps throughout the region.
The platform will let policymakers and investors map specific populations, institutions, and sectors that lack connectivity at national and regional levels. It will enable users to design connectivity projects to address digital gaps reflecting geographic factors and existing civil and telecommunications infrastructures. It will also provide information that could be used to create Regional Digital Hubs and identify potential locations for new submarine cables.
More fundamentally, the platform will shed light on the discussion regarding how specific policies and regulations, including Universal Service Funds, spectrum management and infrastructure sharing, could both promote competition and accelerate the deployment of sustainable digital infrastructure. As a practical tool, it will allow the IDB to help countries design cost-effective national connectivity plans more effectively.
But why is this important? And how is it different from previous data-driven initiatives?
As in other markets, information asymmetries are pervasive in connectivity. The platform will be especially helpful to countries looking to increase connectivity at a time when they face a triple challenge, including rising social demands, fiscal constraints and slow growth that limits the ability of governments to generate additional resources. Given the scarcity of resources, governments must allocate public funds based on the best and most rigorous evidence available. This is particularly true in connectivity because of the importance of so-called “network logic” in the digital sector.
For example, to connect schools, hospitals and other social services, we must be able to identify ways to embed these connections in a network logic that ensures scale and adaptability. ConectaLAC will provide granular data on the most optimal locations to install critical infrastructure and it will do so based on a calculation that helps decisionmakers determine the socioeconomic value of each dollar invested. This could help immediately improve the impact of resource allocation in settings that have previously been hobbled by information asymmetries.
Of course, there have been other attempts to share this kind of data. But ConectaLAC is unique because it relies on a community of practice that will harness information into a regional public good that is easily available to all stakeholders across communities and countries. We believe this will lead to increased accountability throughout the region. Providers will have better evidence of where their investments will reach the most people, while citizens will be able to hold providers accountable for the quality of services provided.
To that end, ConectaLAC contains a visualization tool that estimates the impact associated with different connectivity projects. The tool, a version of which will be available to the public at the end of this year, can support engagement with civil society and other stakeholders during project design and implementation.
Digital public infrastructure has been identified as an accelerator of the sustainable development goals by the G20 Leaders Declaration and as a high priority by the UN Secretary-General. Some 2.6 billion people, or 33% of the world population, have limited or no access to the Internet, according to the newly published SDG Digital Acceleration Agenda, a global analysis by ITU, IDB and United Nations Development Programne (UNDP). Countries need an estimated $400 billion to be able to close this gap to meet the sustainable development goals, according to the report. This analysis estimates that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 280 million people have limited or no access to the Internet, and the region will need to invest an estimated $108 billion to close that gap.
ConectaLAC is ready to assist governments in ensuring that this vital work is completed as soon as possible, and with the best possible use of public funds. We hope that this platform will contribute to making this paradigmatic change possible and that it will accelerate the achievement of the SDGs within the next decade and a half.
By Ilan Goldfajn, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and Susana Cordeiro Guerra, manager of the Institutions for Development Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank.