The need for a digital agenda in Bolivia

by Digital Rights LAC on August 28, 2014


In the run up to a presidential election, a civil society group is organizing itself to propose a digital agenda to the Bolivian candidates. The issue is becoming urgent as delays in creating a serious digital development plan will only increase the levels of social exclusion.

By Camilo Córdova of ‘More and Better Internet for Bolivia’

Social exclusion is a process by which individuals or groups within a population are completely or partially excluded from fully participating in the society that they live in. Analyzing the internet connections in Bolivia under this concept allows us to identify the following problems:

Economic exclusion. Only people who have sufficient financial resources can afford access to the internet. Currently the price of a 1Mbps ADSL connection represents 18% (average cost of an ADSL connection 1mbps = $ 35) of the national minimum wage ($ 205) while in the rest of South America the fees do not exceed 7%.

Exclusion due to speed. Bolivia has one of the slowest internet access speeds in the world. According to a UNDP report (2012), 70% of Internet connections in Bolivia have speeds below 0.512 Mbps, so it is no surprise that Bolivia often gets compared to Africa when it comes to Internet speeds.

Exclusion due to coverage. In Bolivia only 3.33% of the municipalities have access to quality Internet via a DSL connection. Access is limited even in urban areas, such as the case of El Alto – La Paz, where ADSL coverage shows us that only 10 out of 650 areas have Internet access.

Moreover, Bolivia does not have an ICT strategy or digital agenda for development. Among the government programs of the candidates for the upcoming presidential elections in October this year, there are no structured public policy proposals based on the use of ICT, yet it is clear to see the need for development plans in order for them to be implemented.

Within the framework of such poor connectivity, and while the country finds itself in a period of elections, members of a citizen group called “More and Better Internet for Bolivia” are pushing for the creation of a digital agenda. How could this be interpreted? According to Ernesto Piedras:

They are a set of private, public, academic and social policies to promote economic development based on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). However, they are NOT about soley increasing the number of Internet users, nor the government acquiring new technology or creating ICT business incentives. Neither are they about setting up websites for government agencies or teaching computing at schools … all of these would be isolated efforts that would not include everybody and not promote the growth of the whole country. ”

The civil society event called “Digital Agenda for Bolivia” gathers specialists, technicians, activists, academics, entrepreneurs, authorities and general users with the aim to provide a space for citizens to discuss the state of technology in our country and create a joint agenda of citizen demands related to the topic. Additionally, there is the proposal of solutions for the problems that are identified, which would be useful for the political parties so that they can take on the agenda, analyze and implement it within their government programs.

Without a digital agenda that covers regulatory and economic challenges, including citizen use of technology, the state runs the risk of perpetuating the social exclusion of Bolivians from the democratic global platform that the Internet has become. At this point, it is the duty of the presidential candidates to consider the scope of this issue in the development plans for Bolivia and we hope that the efforts of civil society in the formation of a participatory and democratic agenda will be valued by the upcoming authorities.

Camilo Cordova, activist and representative of the collective “More and Better Internet for Bolivia”