Letter IEDI n. 1014–Barriers to digitization in Latin America and the fight against COVID-19
The use of digital technology systems has stood out as an important tool to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its socioeconomic effects, according to a study entitled “Las oportunidades de digitalización em América Latina frente al Covid-19” (digitization opportunities in Latin America under COVID-19), by researchers at ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), CAF (Andean Development Corporation) and other institutions. Today's Letter IEDI presents the main arguments and conclusions of the study.
In the social dimension, digital technologies have enabled remote access to health and education. At the same time, they contribute to reduce the social distance resulting from isolation measures.
In the economic dimension, digitization helps prevent the complete dismantling of the productive system, through the automation of links in production chains and of logistics, marketing and supply processes, in addition to enabling teleworking.
Despite this, the use of these technologies in Latin America still faces great challenges to spread. The resilience of its digital infrastructure still needs to advance, as it lags behind most regions on the planet and improves at a slower rate than Asia and even Africa.
With an intermediate digital infrastructure, the increase in the use of digital services tends to compromise the quality of data transmission, with reduced speed and higher latency/network response time.
According to the study, there are still other challenges like: increasing home access to the internet, reducing its heterogeneity between different social groups, expanding and deepening the digitization of productive systems and expanding the digital supply of public services.
In addition, it is also important that the traditional infrastructure is reinvigorated with a substantial increase in investment in energy, transport and sanitation, as a way of integrating countries’ economic and territorial system, making it ready for digitization.
In Brazil, for example, delays and problems to pay the emergency aid program to families could have been reduced considerably if access to smartphones and the internet had been more widespread, if the population had become more familiar with digital tools, but also if the digitization of the Brazilian State had been greater, so as to promote greater agility and integration of the databases in its different spheres.
Given such limitations and considering the most successful international experiences in combating the effects of the pandemic through digital technologies—such as China, India and South Korea, among other countries—Latin America demands actions and public policies to enhance the supply and quality of digital services, the efficient management of traffic on the networks and the increased use of these services for keeping the population informed. Some initiatives are already underway, but they are insufficient.
The ECLAC report suggests ten measures to increase the effects of digitization in the prevention, control and mitigation of the effects of COVID-19, among which can be mentioned:
• reduction of regulatory restrictions on the expansion of network infrastructure;
• temporary availability of access to new bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to network operators;
• promotion of productive systems digitization;
• consolidation of structural policies that allow the development of advanced digital solutions in the areas of health, education and work;
• universal coverage and access to telecommunications networks, with regulatory policies that encourage investment in advanced 4G and 5G networks.