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Broadband access rates, regulatory uncertainty and lack of infrastructure investment are the main obstacles standing between Latin America and its goal of closing the digital divide by 2020 and will be hotly debated topics at the Regional Telecommunications Congress (CRT) in Panama this week.
Over four days of meetings from August 18, telecommunications authorities, private sector players and others will discuss the impact of public policy, regulation, investment and profit margins of regional operators on the sector. Latin America represents 10% of the global mobile telecoms market in terms of income.
The first time the conference was held exactly a year ago, a study presented by the CRT's organizer - the Ibero-American association of research centers and telecommunication enterprises (Ahciet) - claimed that to close the digital divide by 2020, Latin America would need to invest US$44.4bn per year, or US$356bn in total in mobile and fixed networks.
Closing the divide by 2020 has become the main focus on this year's agenda too. But it is not that easy.
Regulatory uncertainty in certain countries is obstructing the auctioning of spectrum, which is leading to a reduction in potential capex in those countries of up to 67%, holding up the rollout of infrastructure and new mobile services and driving up the cost of services for the end user, according to the GSM Association (GSMA).
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recommends countries to have auctioned 1,300MHz of spectrum by 2015, however even the most developed telecoms markets in Latin America have not auctioned even 30% of that.
A study by Telecom Advisory Services and the Latin American Development Bank (CAF) recommends the rollout of a regional internet exchange point (IXP), which could help reduce transport costs by 38%, or US$1.8bn, which in turn would add US$3.56bn-4.47bn to regional GDP.
This would also lead to a 8.33% reduction in broadband access rates and increase speeds by 35%.
Latin America has some 632mn mobile connections and is expected to reach 500mn mobile broadband connections by 2017.
The telecommunications industry represents 4% of regional GDP.
The conference is jointly organized by Ahciet, the GSMA, Panama's public services regulator Asep and CAF.
Also participating are the ITU, the Latin American and Caribbean IP address Regional Registry (Lacnic), Internet Society (Isoc), the telecommunications regulators association (Regulatel) and Ibero American secretary general (Segib).
An interview with Pablo Bello, secretary general of Ahciet, regarding the challenge of closing the digital divide is available at this link.