Colombia has taken important actions in recent years to foster digital transformation, but more needs to be done to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of digitalisation are shared throughout the economy and across all parts of society, according to a new report from the OECD.
Going Digital in Colombia assesses the country’s current level of digital uptake and preparation, then lays out a roadmap for building an integrated digital policy framework. It suggests a range of policy proposals for enhancing connectivity, increasing adoption and use of digital technologies, fostering digital innovation, developing skills and labour market for digital economy and seizing new growth opportunities from digital transformation, as part of a National Digital Strategy for Colombia.
The report draws important links between development of a comprehensive national digital policy and key economic policy goals in Colombia, including boosting productivity, increasing skills, reducing informality in the labour market and stimulating innovation. It notes that clearer long-term priorities, a stronger focus on larger-scale programmes and better integration with other policies will be necessary to increase the effectiveness of digitalisation policies in Colombia.
“The Colombian economy has been expanding rapidly and converging to higher living standards since the early 2000s, with growth rates among the strongest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said during a presentation of the report with Colombia’s Minister of Information and Communication Technologies Sylvia Constaín. “Getting digital policy right will be critical as Colombia tackles both today’s economic and social challenges and those of tomorrow. Embracing digitalisation will be the key to taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the 21st Century economy. Colombia should develop a National Digital Strategy across the government that will drive innovation and growth while sharing the benefits across society,” Mr Gurría said. (Read the speech)
Improving digital infrastructure and uptake tops the list of OECD recommendations. The report shows that growth rates of fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions in Colombia, at 9.4% and 24.9% respectively, over the 2012-18 period, are among the highest in the OECD. Nevertheless, it also shows that Colombia’s 13.4 fixed broadband subscriptions and 52.1 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in December 2018 are the lowest in the OECD. Similarly, the 13% share of fibre connections and the average download speed (3.48 megabits per second) are lower than the OECD average, while the prices for fixed broadband baskets, while decreasing, can be up to 2.5 times those seen in the OECD.
The upcoming multiband auction in December has the potential to foster competition by levelling the playing field in the market, provided that companies that do not have spectrum in the lower frequency bands have a fair chance to obtain licenses. In addition, the auction may contribute to extending the much needed coverage in Colombia. The objective of boosting competition should be considered when the remaining parameters for the auction are set.
The government should also review import duties on handsets and lower the tax burden on telecommunication operators. Steps should be taken to preserve the independence of the new “converged regulator” for the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors, by preventing any undue pressure from the government, ensuring its financial autonomy and setting transparent and merit-based mechanisms for the appointment of its board.
Colombia is lagging behind in overall Internet usage, with 64% of individuals using the Internet in 2017, a level reached in most OECD countries in the mid-2000s, according to the report. The government should take further steps to increase adoption and use of digital technologies and reduce the digital divide between citizens, including better targeting of state funding for public Internet centres in poor and remote communities, new funding for computers and information technology in schools and small businesses and the use of tax incentives to promote e-banking.
Progress has been made toward adapting the educational system and labour market for digital transformation, but greater investment in education, training, lifelong learning will be required to meet the challenges of the digitalised economy, according to the report.