Q&A with Antonio Garcia Zaballos
You are Lead Specialist on telecommunications in the Competitiveness and Innovation Division of the Inter-American Development Bank: What are the main functions of your division and where do telecommunications sit within this?
The Inter-American Development Bank is a multilateral development bank focused on improving the quality of life of the people living in the Latin America and the Caribbean Region. The Telecom sector is a cross cutting sector which is key for development, social inclusion and improve of macroeconomic indicators as productivity and GDP. In this regard the work that we do at the bank is related to four main areas of intervention:
i. Support in the design and implementation of broadband plan and digital strategies including the governance model that are coming along to guarantee the success in the implementation
ii. Support in the update of regulatory framework to promote a business climate that facilitate a level playing field competition as well as an investment climate
iii. Support in the goals of digitalization of public services by means of digital infrastructure which contribute to the principles of accessibility, affordability and security
iv. Support to the institutions involved by means of strengthening their capabilities through training services on technical aspects
So our main role is to support financially and technically to the 26 IDB member countries from the LAC region to achieve the goals of universality of internet services by means of facilitating a business climate for fair competition, innovation and investment.
Is there overlap with content areas, such as e-health and e-government, and also ICT? How does your division deal with the tensions across subject areas or are they complementary?
The IDB sees the objective of democratization of digital services as a holistic ecosystem where different stakeholders must have an active role to guarantee that the 4th revolution is not missed by any of the social strata of the population. In this regard, in all the project we design we consider a component to contribute to reduce the social divide by means of using ICT services and digital infrastructure.
Infrastructure is a mean to achieve an end which is nothing but to improve the quality of life and productivity of those we use technology (citizens, SMEs and public institutions) however, in this ecosystem it is key to have the people trained about the benefits that ICT could bring to their lifes and their business so rather than a sequential list of activities we must think of it as simultaneous actions at the supply and the demand side.
What are the key issues for the Latin American region? Are there great disparities between countries or are there more similarities than differences?
According to the GSMA out of the 634 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean 64 million are not covered neither by 3G or 4G infrastructure, and 363 million are not subscribed to broadband services.
To close this gap it is estimated a total investment needed of 121 billion dollars during the period 2015-2020. This implies a capex per person during the next coming 5 years of $191 (higher than in any other developing Region according to the GSMA).
There are at least three reasons behind lower levels of performance of internet access, adoption and usage in the Latin-American and the Caribbean Region:
(i) Lack of understanding about how the ICT sector might contribute to general economic growth by leveraging specific services and applications to assist in the development of sectors such as health, education, trade, government relations, etc;
(ii) Low institutional capacity to design, implement and supervise specific measures that foster the use and adoption of ICT among the different social strata and
(iii) The regulatory frameworks that are currently in place in some cases are old-fashioned and not adjusted to the major trends in the industry.
In my opinion, to achieve the goals of universality and affordability of internet services should consider the following aspects:
• Training public civil servants providing them with regulatory and industry knowledge and country-specific information. Examples of that are a training center in Nicaragua that serves Central America, and on-line resources that include an interactive national broad band maps and a broad band reference index -DigiLAC-;
• Providing a neutral space (fora) for governments and private actors to learn from each other, and identify the scope of their collaboration and the best manner to pursue it. An example has been a recent forum with private and public agents operating the Andean countries to discuss analog switch-off, white spaces and allocation of spectrum;
• Promoting the adoption of strategic regulatory and institutional frameworks at the country level and sometimes at the sub-regional level; and
• Providing resources –grants and loans at preferential rates- to fund public infrastructure investments in broad band, to strengthen the regulatory framework and institutional capacities in the sector; and to develop applications that will support demand.
In the forthcoming Telecommunications and Media Forum in Miami (19-20 May) you will be giving an update on infrastructure projects supported by the AIDB. What are the main methods of funding (ie are they PPPs in the main or other models)?
I think the question should rather be. How can public policy and public capital best elicit private finance to make such investment happen? In my view, the following considerations should be put in place:
a) Ensuring that the overall environment (political, regulatory, legal, financial etc) is stable and clear;
b) Identifying a clear scope and targets for broadband projects;
c) Leveraging scarce public capital and other resources to maximise their usefulness and effects;
d) Allowing and encouraging the use of the most efficient technology, whether wireless or wireline;
e) Carefully balancing obligations on coverage and the range of services to be provided against their impact on the attractiveness of the project;
f) Examining other measures in parallel that can help the demand side of the project, such as public sector demand and demand aggregation;
g) Selecting a suitable investment method, for example, a suitable form of public private partnership (PPP);
h) Recognising and catering for the preferences of existing investor clienteles.
How do you gauge 'success' and do you monitor sustainability? If so, how?
Basically by means of specific KPIs related to the different levers of the ecosystem. Increase in penetration, reduction of retail price, increase of the speed of the service, usage of specific services and applications, review and update of regulatory framework to facilitate competition, innovation and investment. There is not just a unique way to quantify success, we must need to look at how people are really using technology in their date to date and understanding how their lives are better thanks to it, we definitely need a citizen-centric approach.
Sustainability is in the DNA of ICT, precisely something that we observe is that the achievement of many of the SDGs defined have a lot to do with using internet and technology at people disposal. So we need to consider a component on every project and we should make sure that the institutional model (governance model) is coming along with the goals that are defined as part of the government strategy. ICT and broadband cannot longer be seen as a private matter, as it has been highlighted above, it is more and more important the involvement of the public sector.
The forthcoming IIC events in Miami (which includes the Regional Regulators Forum) is the third event the AIDB has supported. How would you describe your experience at the IIC Telecommunications and Media Forum, and what do your colleagues gain from it?
I would just described with a simple word: 'amazing', I think it is one of the best events that I am attending every year, the quality of the discussion and the level of the speakers make of this event a must attend event for the regulators in the Region. In addition it is the perfect way to get in touch with the different stakeholders of the industry and have an open dialogue about issues that in other circumstances people may not feel comfortable discussing.
- Tuesday, 26 April 2016