Presidential elections will take place in Chile on December 13 and while the result is still up in the air and will probably require a runoff election as there will be no simple majority for any of the four candidates, it is generally believed that the next president will be one of three contenders: independent Marco Enríquez-Ominami, an outside shot who is gaining in popularity, center-left pro-government and former president Eduardo Frei, or right-wing billionaire Sebastián Piñera.
The candidates have centered their presidential platforms on specific matters, including programs for women, SMEs, the energy sector, and of course the ICT industry.
And recently the presidential hopefuls' IT spokespersons - Iván Barrantes for Enríquez-Ominami, Alejandro Barros for Frei and Alfredo Barriga for Piñera - battled it out in an online broadcast www.porundebateonline.cl
In this article, BNamericas analyzes some of the IT issues discussed in the debate and also talked to Miguel Pérez, president of the Chilean IT industry association Acti, who commented on what would be best in these areas from an industry point of view.
ICT IN EDUCATION
One of the main areas of concern of users sending their questions to the IT spokespersons was how IT could generate a real impact in education.
According to Barros, a successful policy is not just about delivering hardware; ICT also has to be added into the learning process and not just having teachers using PowerPoint in classes. Barros said delivering PCs to third graders is "significant" - as President Michelle Bachelet's current government is doing.
"The main driver of access and use of IT in education is when a kid gets home with a PC and begins to generate an ecosystem that is favorable to the adoption of technology, to the use of the PC and broadband. That is a successful policy," Barros said.
On the other side, Piñera's spokesperson Barriga said their camp's proposal aims to provide one PC per student, with different levels of subsidies, but aiming for the PC to be a real tool to improve education.
And according to Acti's Pérez: "The more, the merrier. That's the challenge, to deliver a PC to everyone that can use it. If you deliver extra, that is not a waste of money. Perhaps not all the hardware delivered will be used the way we would expect, but it is getting less expensive by the day [to deliver the hardware]. Today we can have a good PC for US$100-120 - prices that didn't exist before."
"The real issue is the application you add in, and the connectivity. Hardware is only the first step - without applications, it won't work," he added.
PIRACY AND THE USE OF OPEN SOURCE
Barrantes said that Enríquez-Ominami's proposal in terms of regulating piracy and the use of open source is to hold an open debate that includes all sectors that are interested in the matter. He also said that his team's goal is to promote access to technology and broadband, and consequently something would have to be done about the cost of licensing, and perhaps regulating the use of open source, which would also help to reduce piracy rates.
Although Chile is considered one of the most mature markets in terms of adoption of ICT, levels of piracy have increased since 2004. According to an annual IDC study, commissioned by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), in 2004 Chile's piracy index was 64%. It peaked in 2006 at 68% and then fell to 67% in the 2008 ranking.
Barros said that discussions on the use of open source or proprietary software become relatively irrelevant nowadays, considering that technological innovation such as cloud computing makes the software acquisition cost lower within the overall IT project.
In turn Pérez said: "But the biggest issue on piracy is related to our own products. If we want the Chilean software industry to develop, we need a strong intellectual property law, which I understand is under discussion [in congress]. But when developing software in Chile, all entrepreneurs are concerned if they will have the appropriate protection."
Although the three spokespersons agreed that Chile needs regulations in terms of private data protection, there are different approaches. While Barrantes said that the Enríquez-Ominami team's policies will be geared towards regulating against the unauthorized sale of databases, Frei's team proposes a personal data protection law, and centers the discussion on whether the law should be technology-centered, with the risk of becoming obsolete once a new technology is launched, or general, with the risk of being too vague.
According to Barrantes, "regulation is a must, because you need to guarantee privacy, but we will focus on the origin of the problem, which is the free commercialization of databases. If we manage to regulate that, the rest of the problem is solved."
Although Enríquez-Ominami's IT spokesperson admitted his camp has no specific proposals related to a personal data protection law, he said they will have experts to determine what is best - regulation based on technology or in general terms.
Barriga, from Piñera's team, said there is a consensus on the need of a new regulation, and he in particular favors more general legislation.
Barros was the only spokesperson with the opportunity to get specific about his proposal, saying that an eventual government led by Frei would propose the creation of an ICT regulator to further boost the development of the ICT industry.
Pérez said: "We need to do this fast if we want to bolster the IT offshoring services cluster. We have missed plenty of opportunities - in call center services, or database management services - because of the [lack of a] data protection law. There are companies from other countries concerned about hiring services in Chile because they will not release a database if it's not well protected. This is fundamental!"
THE CHILEAN IT INDUSTRY IN FIGURES
In 2008, IT investments in Chile reached US$2.94bn, with hardware concentrating 63% of the total, followed by services with 25.5% and software with 11.5%.
The industry is set to grow 8% this year, in constant currency terms, reaching US$3.17bn, and 4% in 2010 to US$3.30bn.