The digital revolution liberating Latin American people

Luis Alberto Moreno in the Financial Times: “Imagine a place where citizens can deal with the state entirely online, where all health records are electronic and the wait for emergency care is just seven minutes. Singapore? Switzerland? Try Colima, Mexico.

Pessimists fear the digital revolution will only widen social and economic disparities in the developing world — particularly in Latin America, the world’s most unequal region. But Colima, though small and relatively prosperous, shows how some of the region’s governments are harnessing these tools to modernise services, improve quality of life and share the benefits of technology more equitably.

In the past 10 years, this state of about 600,000 people has transformed the way government works, going completely digital. Its citizens can carry out 62 procedures online, from applying for permits to filing crime reports. No internet at home? Colima offers hundreds of free WiFi hotspots.

Colombia and Peru are taking broadband to remote corners of their rugged territories. Bogotá has subsidised the ex­pansion of its fibre optic network, which now links virtually every town in the country. Peru is expanding a programme that aims to bring WiFi to schools, hospitals and other public buildings in each of its 25 regions. The Colombian plan, Vive Digital, fosters internet adoption among all its citizens. Taxes on computers, tablets and smartphones have been scrapped. Low-income families have been given vouchers to sign up for broadband. In five years, the percentage of households connected to the internet jumped from 16 per cent to 50 per cent. Among small businesses it soared from 7 per cent to 61 per cent .

Inexpensive devices and ubiquitous WiFi, however, do not guarantee widespread usage. Diego Molano Vega, an architect of Vive Digital, found that many programs designed for customers in developed countries were ill suited to most Colombians. “There are no poor people in Silicon Valley,” he says. Latin American governments should use their purchasing power to push for development of digital services easily adopted by their citizens and businesses. Chile is a leader: it has digitised hundreds of trámites — bureaucratic procedures involving endless forms and queues. In a 4,300km-longcountry of mountains, deserts and forests, this enables access to all sorts of services through the internet. Entrepreneurs can now register businesses online for free in a single day.

In Chile, entrepreneurs can now register new businesses online for free in a single day

Technology can be harnessed to boost equity in education. Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state launched a free online service to prepare high school students for a tough national exam in which a good grade is a prerequisite for admission to federal universities. On average the results of the students who used the service were 31 per cent higher than those of their peers, prompting 10 other states to adopt the system.

Digital tools can also help raise competitiveness in business. Uruguay’s livestock information system keeps track of the country’s cattle. The publicly financed electronic registry ensures every beast can be traced, making it easier to monitor outbreaks of diseases….(More)”