Colombia’s Compartel programme
Colombia has implemented a competitive bidding scheme for the deployment of telecentres by private companies and has allowed bidders to benefit from economies of scale by bundling together telecentres in the hundreds. This enables the operators to establish telecentres run by local entrepreneurs in the community, but backed with the support and resources of a larger regional network and a professional management organization. The programme has evolved so that it now includes rural broadband strategies for public institutions and access points.
In 1998, the Consejo Nacional de Politica Economica y Social borrowed key elements from the Chilean universal access (UA) model and crafted a new telecommunication policy that employed an open bidding process for rural telephony expansion. In 2000, the Council added new strategic aspects to the policy, incorporating public points of access to the Internet – telecentros. The programme contains the following six key components:
- Access to telecom infrastructure;
- Promotion of IT access for education;
- Promotion of IT access and applications for Small and Medium Enteprises (SMEs);
- Development of national software and hardware capability;
- Content development; and
- The offering of government services online.
Compartel has three programme stages that aim to provide telecom and ICT coverage to every municipality in Colombia through the provision of public payphones, public access Internet centres and broadband access to public institutions. Compartel’s telephony programme is funded by a combination of revenues generated from license fees, and a 5 per cent revenue levy that is paid by Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (TELECOM), the national operator, and other long distance operators. A smart subsidy competitive tender process is utilized to deploy the programme’s networks.
Compartel in practice
In 2000, following an initial public telephony tender, the first round of bids for telecentres was undertaken. The tender required the deployment of 290 installed locations in 261 towns, each with a population of more than 10,000 people.
The second telecentre tender competition in 2000 required the deployment of 670 telecentres as well as the installation of 6,745 payphones; it was completed in late 2001. The third telecentre tendering competition took place in 2002 with the objective of opening 500 telecentres.
The companies responsible for telecentre installations were, in principle, free to select the hardware and software products they deemed practical. For the first round of bids (2000), both companies employed Microsoft software on PCs. For the second round, 500 telecentres were equipped with Apple’s iMac computers. There was no open source software requirement.
The terms of the telecentre service agreements did not include community outreach programmes to support the telecentres. Thus, the Compartel office designed and delivered a training programme, Estrategia De Acercamiento A La Comunidad, that had served 670 persons from 640 communities as of 2003. Training topics included: social applications of Internet resources, methodologies for project design, and database design and usage. Not all of the communities represented had a functioning telecentre at the time.
Compartel officials recognized the need for the programme to consider newly available technologies such as WiFi, broadband services for rural locations, and non-commercial applications. In response to this, the government revised the phase two Compartel programme in 2005. The revised programme was expanded to provide funding for broadband connectivity for public institutions, including 3,000 public schools, 624 city halls, 120 public hospitals and 30 military facilities.
In 2005, the Ministry of Communications awarded two contracts worth a total of USD 59.7 million for Compartel’s second phase to deploy broadband Internet access in public entities. In January 2006, the government announced its latest Compartel programme, which consisted of an additional USD 4.9 million to provide 178,000 students at public education institutions with high-speed Internet access.
Colombia’s Compartel is the first Universal Access and Service Fund to successfully implement a competitive bidding scheme for privately operated telecentres. The competitive bidding scheme maximized operators’ economies of scale by packaging or bundling together telecentres in the hundreds, which is an important factor in its success. However, maintenance of the telecentres has proven to be a problem.
Sources: Jaime Andrés Estrada, Director, Desarrollo del Sector, Ministerio de Comunicaciones, Bogotá; Staff members of www.colnodo.apc.org; Flacso Quito, Internet and Public Policy Masters programme, student reports, June 2003; Consejo Nacional De Política Economica Y Social, Documento 3032, Programa Compartel De Telefonia Social, 1999-2000. Ministerio de Comunicaciones, Fondo de Comunicaciones, Bogotá, 2000; Compartel website: http://www.compartel.gov.co/; Various news stories posted online at Factiva.com