As part of its Vive Digital (Live Digital) initiative to help eradicate poverty, Colombia has partnered with local enterprise to roll out 1000 wifi hotspots across all of the country’s major centers and so far, in only 5 years, has expanded broadband service to ten million users. Through the use of modern technologies like microwave link networks, the percentage of municipalities in Colombia connected to the Internet has exploded, up to 96% from only 17% in 2010. Meanwhile, small and medium businesses have also readily adopted the technology, with penetration in that market rising by 53% across the same time frame.
Barranquilla is about to increase that statistic, bringing at least this small part of the coast into the 21st century with free wireless access for the public at large. And that’s great news for residents given that Colombia in general has the most expensive broadband Internet. Mayor Alex Char has jumped on-board the broadband train to bring the number of free access points in Barranquilla to a cool 100. Each of these zones will be ‘always on’, accessible 24/7, year-round and will be located in high traffic locations around the city including transportation centers, tourist sites, shopping malls and government buildings. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for a map containing the locations of all the proposed hot spots in Barranquilla.
Edit: It will be interesting to see how these areas are affected by crime. Mayor Char will need to assure the public that they can feel secure using their electronics outside.
The Internet – Beauty and the Beast
Many of us rely on the Internet for our jobs, for school and for communications so high-speed access is a must. For me, as a journalist, life without broadband is torturous. In some countries, broadband is considered so important that it’s treated by government as an essential service, just like electricity, and Internet providers receive huge fines if their quality of service fails to achieve high standards.
In fact, in Canada, regulators have set download velocity minimums at 5Mbps and in major Canadian cities, the average consumer enjoys speeds around 25Mbps – fast enough to download a movie in about a minute. Here in Colombia, the average is only 4Mbps. In fact, in a 2015 ranking of average consumer Internet speeds, Colombia stood in 50th place. Nevertheless, this country has made substantial gains in a very short time and President Santos has committed to achieving 100% municipal connectivity by the end of 2016. As network infrastructure increases, speed will surely follow.
So why has Internet availability become so important? Well, for those countries which have adopted the technology, the benefits of solid, fast Internet service and mobile access far outweigh the negatives. Here are just some of the more common applications for broadband service:
Communications: Technologies such as Whatsapp and Skype enable solid, simple and low-cost (free on wi-fi) international communications solutions for the public sector, almost eliminating the need for costly data plans and landlines. For governments, the Internet is being leveraged to develop new urgent services networks to help connect emergency workers across a wide region.
Business: Local entrepreneurs and small companies can leverage the Internet to access international trade markets and massively boost their profitability. Additionally, the Internet offers companies innumerable tools to help them be more competitive. For example, smartphones enable rapid communication via voice, chat and email with customers and suppliers, immeasurably increasing the customer experience. Websites offer a cheap alternative to a brick and mortar storefront and allow you to connect with your clients easily. Productivity applications like Google Now or Evernote cut costs and boost employee effectiveness. Another huge boon for businesses are team conferencing solutions like Skype for Business which, by eliminating team travel, can save a lot of money and wasted time.
Education: The Internet has blown education wide open, offering everyone full access to what is essentially an enormous, encyclopedic library of information. Users can also access free, Ivy League university courses, receive instant, video-based language instruction, get curated, media-based information and learn just about anything from anyone, for free.
Tourism: By offering free internet at all major centers, transport hubs, museums and attractions, tourists will be able to access social networks, communications tools, and mapping software. They’ll feel safer and will be more likely to share their positive experiences, boosting further tourism.
Clearly, the Internet can be extremely useful. However, like any other tool, it needs to be used responsibly. If there are any of you reading this who are over 30 years old, you probably remember what you used to do before the Internet and smart-phones existed. I remember going outside and playing sports and visiting with my friends. I remember writing letters, on paper, and walking to the post office to send them, and then happily waiting a week to receive a response. Nowadays, we get angry when an email isn’t answered within a day, or a Whatsapp isn’t acknowledged immediately.
Here’s a great article on what people miss most from life before the Internet.
How many times have you gone to a restaurant with friends only to find all of their faces buried in their phones, surfing the Internet? How many times have you forgotten your cellphone at home and upon realizing, felt a rush of loss and anxiety?
Excessive use of the Internet has become an officially acknowledged problem. David Greenfield, PhD, a West Hartford, Conn., psychologist and author of Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyber Freaks, and Those Who Love Them, says, “A true addiction entails a growing tolerance to a substance (think drugs or alcohol) so you need more to get “high,” you have uncomfortable symptoms during withdrawal, and a harmful impact on your life. Computer technologies can be addictive, because they’re psychoactive – that is, they alter mood and often trigger enjoyable feelings.”
The average person checks their cellphone 150 times a day, for an average of 30 seconds each time.
These feelings and situations are irrational – as a society, we’ve become so addicted to the unlimited information and instant gratification of the Internet that we’ve lost our ability enjoy the physical, tangible moments of life.
In summary, it’s great news that our government is getting municipalities engaged and providing free wireless access to the public. The benefits for education, health, business, and tourism are potentially immense. However, it’s imperative that we use this new tool wisely. Do yourself a favor and once in awhile, force yourself to turn off your phone, turn off your TV, and spend some time with your family, in the real world.
Map courtesy of El Heraldo