Key Issues
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"Key Internet Policy Issues" is a series of contributions from people living in countries new or relatively new to the Internet about what they consider to be key policy issues related to the deployment and use of the Internet in their country. Each text is published under the complete responsibility and with the permission of its author. These contributions were solicited by Alan McCluskey, guest editor, in preparation for a special issue of the Internet Society's magazine "OnTheInternet" entitled "Strategies for development: from thought to action" to be published in November 1997. For more information and comments on the preparation of this special edition see "Addressing Key Policy Issues".

Challenging the monopoly

In my opinion, the main problem in Paraguay is the low level of development in telecommunication services. Provision of basic telephony services is a monopoly, essentially concentrated in Asuncion. Getting a phone line within a reasonable time and at a reasonable price is currently impossible and, what's more, no data transmission services are available.

Of all the Mercosur countries, Paraguay has by far the lowest host rate: 0.03 host/thousand compared with 0.56 for Uruguay and 0.47 for Brazil. There are an estimated 3'000 Internet users in Paraguay out of a population of five and a half million compared with almost a million users in Brazil for a population of 163 million. (Source: Inter Press Service, 1997)

What we need are more enterprises providing telecommunication services. That would have two advantages: lower prices and better services. Currently, someone running a bank branch, for example, who wanted an Internet connection might have to wait weeks if not months to get a leased line. The maximum bandwidth with data compression would be 115 kbits and it would cost about 700$ a month. What's more, outside of Asuncion, it is unlikely they would get a line at all.

The academic community is a little better off. The National University of Asuncion has its own antenna and was the first connection from Paraguay to the Internet (last year). Within UNA's campus we are now expanding the fibre optic backbone and faculties are connecting their LANs or hosts to it. The Catholic University has a leased line to the National Computer Centre (CNC) on UNA's campus, but haven't got their own backbone. The CNC is also providing Internet access to the public metropolitan fibre optic network. Other universities have no hosts on the Internet, but they do have dial-up access. A very small number of secondary schools also have dial-up access.

Public awareness of the Internet is growing slowly. Many people still think of the Internet as some kind of "mystical oracle" that knows everything about everything, or some kind of super encyclopaedia. Awareness in rural areas or cities other than Asuncion is almost non-existent. People are beginning to realise how the Internet could become a important tool for their work or their everyday activities and there is a growing demand on the part of businesses.

So what is being done about this situation ? Last year, a new telecommunications law was passed making the monopoly illegal. However, the situation remains unchanged as no other company has come forward to enter the market. Maybe they are waiting for privatisation in the hope of saving on infrastructure costs. The responsibility for privatisation is mainly in the hands of Parliament. They have to vote a privatisation law. It is the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) that are to fix technical conditions and requirements. Trade Unions, however, are opposed to privatisation and a number of politicians have taken advantage of the situation to make all sorts of electoral promises.

Although there is still a long way to go, we hope that privatisation will eventually bring better services.

Rolando Chaparro Fox, National Centre of Computing, Paraguay

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: September 5th, 1997 - Last up-dated: September 5th, 1997