Brazil has made significant progress in improving Internet access, digital security and regulation, yet more needs to be done to reduce the country’s digital divide and embrace digital technologies. As Brazil, like the rest of the world, works to contain the COVID-19 crisis, stepping up the pace of digital transformation could hasten and reinforce a just and resilient recovery, according to the OECD.
“Digital technologies are the backbone of today’s economies, and digital tools and connectivity are essential in helping businesses and people to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching twin Reviews of Brazil’s digital transformation and its telecommunication and broadcasting sectors. “As Brazil and the world work to tackle this devastating crisis, Brazil should do everything to seize the opportunities offered by digitalisation to strengthen the recovery and build a resilient, inclusive future economy.”
The Review of the country’s digital transformation, Going Digital in Brazil, finds that despite recent progress, Brazil lags in investment in digital innovation and in the level of digital skills in the workforce. The Review recommends ways to increase digital uptake among people and firms, strengthen digital security and privacy, and spur innovation. It calls for better co-ordination of digital transformation policies among ministries and government agencies and for greater resources for implementing Brazil’s Digital Transformation Strategy (E-Digital).
A parallel report, the OECD Telecommunication and Broadcasting Review of Brazil 2020, shows where there is room for Brazil to catch up with advanced economies in ensuring access to high-quality communication services that are fundamental for a successful and inclusive digital transformation. It suggests actions to improve market conditions, competition and the policy and regulatory framework in communication and broadcasting. It also recommends an overhaul of taxes, fees and tariffs that limit operators’ scope for investment and innovation.
Creating a single independent regulator to oversee communication and broadcasting services, as some other countries have done, would help to lower prices and improve quality as services in the two sectors increasingly overlap, the Review says. Similarly, introducing a single-class licensing regime for the two sectors would lower legal costs and administrative burdens for operators. Meanwhile, an upcoming auction of 5G spectrum should be carefully designed to ensure optimal network coverage and competition conditions.
Getting digital policy right is vital in all countries to ensure that the benefits of the digital transformation – such as boosting productivity and improving well-being – are shared fairly across economies and societies. Digital tools can also help to efficiently target social spending. On the other hand, getting digital policy wrong risks worsening existing inequalities between high and low-skilled individuals, large and small firms, and urban and rural regions.
Among the progress made in Brazil in recent years, subscriptions to communications services have steadily increased, thanks to a more than tripling in mobile subscriptions from 2012 to 2019, and relatively affordable mobile voice and data plans. The share of households with Internet access rose to 67% in 2018 from 40% in 2013, and the share of adults using the Internet to 72% from 50%. New laws have strengthened digital security, and consumer and personal data protection. Brazil has created an exemplary institutional structure for Internet governance – the Internet Steering Committee – and has taken steps to strengthen the independence of the communication regulator and to promote competition in mobile markets.
Despite this progress, challenges remain. As of 2018, nearly a quarter of Brazilian adults had never used the Internet, with data showing that Internet use is closely linked to levels of education, income and age. There is also a persistent urban-rural digital divide, with 75% of the adult population in urban areas using the Internet against only 49% in rural areas.
Fixed broadband is less affordable in Brazil than mobile, and while Brazil had 90 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants as of June 2019, not far behind the OECD average of 113, fixed-line broadband penetration of 16% was only half the OECD average of 31%. Only 54% of firms with 10 or more employees had a website in 2019, compared with an OECD average of 78%, and while e-commerce is growing steadily, only 21% of companies conducted sales online in 2019.
A summary of key recommendations from the two Reviews:
Continue to improve digital skills, particularly among micro enterprises and people with low levels of education. Offer firms tax incentives for investing in digital technology upgrades and training. Do more to support research and development in ICT services and innovative start-ups. Increase funding for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Remove regulatory barriers to the development of e-commerce.
Improve access to reliable, affordable and high-quality Internet by deploying fibre optic infrastructure to rural and remote areas and by encouraging competition in communication services. In broadcasting, where concentration is higher, reduce barriers to entry and remove de facto legal restrictions on the vertical integration of the pay TV value chain. Design the upcoming auction for 5G spectrum in a way that ensures a competitive market, particularly in light of new legislation enabling the successive renewal of spectrum licences.
Create a converged and independent regulator to oversee both communication and broadcasting, and replace the current dual licensing system with a single-class licensing regime for communication and broadcasting services. Harmonise tax rates in the communications sector across states and reduce them where possible. Aim to overhaul the indirect tax system in the long term to reduce distortions.