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Latin American and Caribbean nations account for 11 out of the top 20 developing countries in the 2017 Affordability Report published by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).
The report covers 58 countries that are considered low- to mid-range economies, including 14 CALA region nations in all, three of which were added to the ranking this year (Honduras, Bolivia and Nicaragua).
Colombia, Mexico and Peru in fact lead the entire ranking (in that order), among seven Latin American countries that rank in the top 10.
Ecuador is the most improved Latin American nation, climbing nine places compared to its 2016 position, to sixth place. Mexico climbed seven places, Argentina three and Peru two.
However, improvement by these countries, and others from around the world, forced Brazil down four places (now 10th) and Costa Rica down three (now fifth).
A4AI builds its ranking by evaluating 27 criteria, such as the existence of basic broadband policies and goals, the presence of a universal service fund, effectiveness of the universal service fund, existing service penetration levels, amount of internal bandwidth available per user, amount of international bandwidth available, and subsidized services for neglected parts of society. The criteria are grouped loosely into two main scores: infrastructure and access (policies and actual service uptake).
Although service pricing is not considered when scoring each country, A4AI found that countries with the best scores, based on the above criteria, do have the most affordable service prices.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
Colombia has led the ranking for two years running, thanks mainly to its Vive Digital national digital agenda, which A4AI considers to be one of the most comprehensive programs in the world. For example, in the 2016 report Colombia was one of only two countries in the list that included a gender equality component in the digital agenda, and also stood out due to its emphasis on ICT training.
Furthermore, the country's size and location - with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts - plus a well-developed internal backbone that interconnects with neighboring countries, thanks to the efforts of carrier Internexa, make it a favorite landing site for international undersea cables. There are nine systems landing in Colombia, comparable to Panama and Brazil, which are served by 11 and 19 international cables, respectively.
Vive Digital originally focused mainly on connectivity, but in 2016 the program went a step further and arranged subsidies for services and devices so that the infrastructure can be used by citizens who lack the financial means.
Mexico also has a strong position due to the market reforms introduced in 2014 and the decision to make 700MHz spectrum available to all operators. The improved ranking this year is due to Mexico's policy of reserving some spectrum for community use under non-profit licenses, and the fact that the reforms continue to bring about change, such as falling prices.
Although earning third place in the ranking as a whole, Peru stood out with the highest score in terms of infrastructure alone, due to ongoing progress in its ambitious national backbone project RDNFO, and particularly due to legislation in 2015 designed to encourage infrastructure-sharing among operators, and between verticals, such as rules to ensure that new highways allow rights of way for fiber infrastructure.
While Costa Rica fell three places in the ranking, ousted by Mexico and Peru, the Central American nation achieved the highest score in terms of access. A4AI attributes this to Costa Rica's effective use of its universal access fund. Globally, not all countries have such a fund, and even among those that do there are cases of the funds being diverted away from ICT, or bogged down by endless discussions of how best to use them.
Costa Rica, on the other hand, regularly makes announcements about projects supported by this fund, including device subsidies. The country was a relatively late starter in terms of mobile penetration and, with mobile market liberalization in 2008, Costa Rica leapfrogged directly to mobile internet services, also with the backing of this fund. It now has one of the highest mobile broadband penetration rates in the region, alongside Brazil.
The most improved Latin American country, Ecuador, made its leap by emulating measures taken in neighboring countries, thanks to a reworking of its general telecom law in 2015. The new law simplified the regulatory apparatus, placed more emphasis on public consultation as part of the decision-making process and set rules to promote infrastructure-sharing.