Latin American and Caribbean Concerns

press-larry-1b.jpg   Larry Press, lpress@isi.edu


The fifth Latin American and Caribbean Networking Forum, hosted by Jose Soriano of the Peruvian Scientific Network, was held in Lima on April 14-19, 1996. At the first Forum, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, most of the networks were small UUCP experiments, but, by this year, nearly all attendees represented IP networks with Internet connectivity. The attendees felt the networks (and politics) were sufficiently mature to support the formation of a permanent organization, a Secretariat, to work on issues of common interest.The role of the Secretariat and its initial tasks were defined during a three day workshop which began the Forum. Around 40 networking leaders from 22 nations used a structured strategic planning process to brainstorm action ideas which were then grouped and voted upon. A temporary, five-person executive committee was elected to plan the next Forum (in Santiago around the end of September), and to establish a mechanism for establishing a permanent Secretariat.

The workshop also established committees on technical issues, training, politics and regulation, and information publication, and charged them with several action items, including:

  • Develop the capacity for analysis and proposal preparation to educate, negotiate with, and lobby decision makers evaluating policy and regulatory options in areas of importance to the Forum.
  • Identify and study similar organizations, and establish strategic alliances with them.
  • Conduct a feasibility study for a regional backbone.
  • Create a repository for descriptions of the history of the networks in each nation, along with descriptions of their negotiations and agreements with phone companies and regulatory agencies.
  • Study and propose alternatives for implementation of a regional NIC.
  • Create a Web site with information on activities and resources related to communication and information technologies in each country in the region. Material could include syllabi and descriptions of courses and seminars, a directory of information processing products, a repository of software and manuals in Spanish and Portuguese, discussion lists of problems culture and language, etc.
  • Establish a system for gathering ongoing information about the networks, users, applications and information systems in the region.
  • Plan the formation of a group of experts and facilitators in areas like management, technology, information content, user support, and negotiation and lobbying.
  • Develop coordinated training programs.
  • Inventory the skills of the networking people in the region.

These action items reflect the concerns of the group.

They realize that networking infrastructure includes people as well as wires and servers. Trained managers, technicians, and users are extremely important to their effort.

There is also widespread concern with the rapid growth of commercial networks. Forum attendees represented networks that began as academic experiments. They now see commercial networks growing very rapidly, and fear unfair competition from large international companies and from national telephone companies. (They may be restricted to purchasing communication links from their competitors). This is reminiscent of the reaction of some ISP’s in the U. S. who are facing competition from AT&T and other carriers. There is no doubt that commercial traffic will far outweigh academic traffic, and the original networks may be forced into niches of technical experimentation and education and training.

Thanks to the effort and financial contributions of the U. S. National Science Foundation and the Organization of American States, many of these networks connect to the Internet in the U. S.{footnote 1} While this effort has enabled a fast start, a survey presented at the conference showed that from 10-53% (average 32%) of the network’s budgets were devoted to international links, giving impetus for the formation of a regional backbone.{footnote 2}

Many governments overlook the emerging networks or see them as sources of tax revenue. (There is wide variety in national regulation and communication costs). The Forum attendees feel a need to educate policy makers and the general public so they will see networks as strategic development resources.

The concerns and action items of this Forum are common the world over. Perhaps the Secretariat can serve as a model for others.


Footnotes

  1. Steve Goldstein of NSF and Saul Hahn of OAS have been instrumental in this work, and were honored with plaques of recognition and invited to be on the Secretariat’s Consulting Committee.
  2. Larry Press and Luis German Rodgriguez, Toward an Internet Census for Developing Nations, to be presented at INET ’96, and Luis German Rodriguez and Larry Press Metodologia para la Evaluacion de Redes, in “Documento de Referencia sobre las Redes en America Latina y el Caribe,” UNESCO, Funredes, in press.

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