Revolution. The word carries a tremendous amount of weight. From the Arab Spring to the American Revolution, from wars to ideas, countries rise and fall on the waves of revolutions. A new revolution is sweeping through Latin America: a digital revolution.
Latin America currently has about 232 million Internet users. This number is a sharp increase from the number of Internet users in 2005: 78.5 million. By 2017, Internet users could rise by 63 percent to 294 million.
In Mexico, Colima’s 600,000 residents have complete Internet access to all kinds of different state services and documents. The state has made health records electronic and crime reports can be filled out online, as well as filing documents for permits. To go along with this, Colima has hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots for those that do not have Internet at home.
Further to the south, Columbia and Peru are spreading broadband Internet to remote corners of the two countries. The Peruvian government is working to spread Wi-Fi to public buildings, including hospitals and schools in all of its 25 regions.
The Columbian government in Bogotá has subsidized the spread of fibre optic networks around the country to the point where nearly every town in the nation is connected. The government has also gotten rid of taxes on Smartphones, tablets and computers. Under-resourced families have been given vouchers for broadband access. In the last five years, Internet usage has increased from 16 percent to 50 percent.
The digital revolution is helping to improve education equality in Brazil. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul began a new free online program for high school students to help prepare them for a difficult national exam. Grades from the national exam dictate whether students can attend the federal universities. Students who used the service were 31 percent more likely to achieve grades high enough to enroll in the universities, and the system was so successful that 10 other states have implemented it.
Latin America is often cited as a relatively violent area of the world. Never fear, the digital revolution is helping to fix this too. Ecuador released a real-time data supplier for crime hotspots four years ago. Fast-forward to today and the homicide rate has been reduced by 48 percent, thanks to the system.
Tech start-ups have followed the digital revolution. Coupled with inspiration from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, new “technolatinas” are using the Internet in Latin America to create start-ups of their own. Some companies have used close ties with Silicon valley to register their companies in the U.S. Successful companies have the potential to bring outside investments, creating the potential for economic growth.
The spread of broadband Internet opens up “new frontiers for regional development. It can serve as a tool for reducing social and economic inequities.” However, it can also lead to more inequality. It can enable a select few to “hyper-develop,” leaving the rest in the dust. However, the risks outweigh the gains. With the potential for reduced crime, increased economic growth and a more equal education system it is little wonder the digital revolution is booming in Latin America.
– Greg Baker