There are advantages and disadvantages to the Internet for everyone, and its impact on population in the Third World is uncertain. This paper compares the proliferation of Internet use in the United States and Chile. The nations in less developed countries could profit from access to the Internet, since users no longer need to be "techies" with interfaces like Mosaic, and now Netscape. However, there are also the considerations of elitist disparities and barriers to access (e.g. cost, language, demographics, geography, political opposition).
While there are 236 countries connected to international networks1 of one kind or another, the developing countries in Latin America are underrepresented. The wealthier ABC countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile - and Mexico have the most networks, but the numbers just don’t compare with the industrialized nations. Puerto Rico and Mexico are the only Spanish-speaking territory and country, respectively, that had initial connections in 1989, which is roughly about the same time that industrialized nations had theirs. Most of the Latin American countries have been connected to the Internet since 1990 (Uruguay connected its one network last year), many funded by the Organization of American States and U.S. National Science Foundation.2
As in the US, it was the military in Chile that brought together the technology to make networking possible. (Incidently, it was the US National Science Foundation and NASA that helped create the telecommunications backbone that now supports Internet connections. NASA was interested in sending data from its Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in northern Chile, which was also funded by the NSF and which is apparently the perfect site to study Magellanic Clouds. In 1987 NASA donated time on the networks supporting the observatory to a project linking three Santiago universities in Chile’s first network.)
Since going online, Chile has not experienced the growth that networked information has undergone in the United States. The academic science community was the first and still is the primary user group. Unlike the United States, private access is very rare. Until the middle of 1994 the public had yet to be convinced of the benefits of networked information and of the Internet in particular. In Chile there are roughly 1,100 users, and is increasing at about one hundred percent per year. According to Patricia Mamana, an executive from Red De Computadores S. A., an Internet consortium of three universities, as more information about Internet becomes available and more computer-trained people gain access to leadership positions in business, more people and more networks are expected to be connected to the Internet. It has been just since October 1994, when information about it started to appear in television and magazines, that people started to buy into the system, doubling the number of users in that short space of time. The Chilean public is just coming to understand that the Internet is not just a place to find games or to send messages to people residing abroad.
One of the reasons for Chile’s lagging behind the U.S. in the number of private users might be found in the fact the main Internet hosts are still at the universities.3 Although the universities are seen as the seat of knowledge and technology, General Pinochet did away with all the humanist disciplines, and allowed to remain only the hard sciences and those disciplines which would provide the country with expertise or products that could be sold abroad; today business and science still predominate. Perhaps having more of a mix between scientists and liberal arts people early on could have made a difference in drawing public interest to the Network. But oddly enough, even the agricultural researchers who were greatly encouraged to use the networks are barely using the Internet.
Stephen Ruth and Raul Gouet, in a 1993 article in the magazine Internet Research, compare the networking activity in Chile and the Czech Republic.4 The countries have similar data communications capacity, population, and GNP. However, the authors say that in a given year the Czech Republic will reach three times the traffic volume and user registration that Chile had. As of April of this year, Chile had 103 host computers connected and the Czechs 459. The article advances no theories as to why the Czechs have more network use than Chile. The two are comparable since both countries were emerging from brutal dictatorships when the networks became available, and both have populations of about 14 million with similar disciplines represented in their universities. What circumstances might account for this disparity? Is technology transfer different from the US to South America than from the US to Eastern Europe? Even more pertinent is the case of Argentina, which experienced a growth of over 400 percent going from 248 host computers to 1,287 in October of 1994. This can only partly be explained by the fact that the actual physical link, the Internet node, is located in Buenos Aires.
By today’s standards electronic communication via computer networks is a cost effective, efficient way to communicate with the world; easier information dissemination and exchange could help the developing countries in Latin America be not only consumers of information but producers as well. In the case of Chile all the basics are in place: the infrastructure and educated population, activity in telecommunications, and hardware and software savvy. Meanwhile, there are four Internet providers in Chile whose cost to the user varies: one charges $50 a month, with a limiting volume of ten megabytes, another charges $45 per month for a volume up to five megabytes.5 However, networking in developing countries runs up against multiple obstacles ranging from telecommunication costs and lack of adequate technical support to regulatory restrictions, political instability and public mistrust.
Although forty percent of the Internet is located outside of the United States, it is only the most developed countries, the industrialized countries, that have the most thorough and sophisticated access. Full Internet connection for a country is very expensive - without going into tedious detail , the basic connection needs a high-speed link running on a lease line or satellite link. Telecommunication costs can be four to eight times what it costs in the United States. For example, to connect on a dedicated, high-speed line in the U.S., it costs $2,000 per month, while in Peru the cost is $8,000 to $14,000 and Cuba’s cost is $16,000 because due to the US embargo, its signals have to go through Canada. The cost of the equipment can be up to$25,000 (for routers, servers, etc) and the cost of installation and training added to the cost of support and maintenance can become unsustainable.
However, the most basic levels of connection do not require expensive use of an Internet node; UUCP (Unix to Unix coPy) and FIDONET can be broadly installed since both are low cost technologies with effective capabilities for email and ftp (file transfer protocol). In fact, the so-called ABC countries: Argentina, Brazil and Chile, all have several each of BITNET, UUCP, and FIDONET sites as well as IP (Internet Protocol) Internet links.6
Training becomes even more important in Latin American countries when the language barrier is considered; not only is most of the information in English (the books in the Gutenberg project, the library catalogs), but also the Unix commands and the computer manuals are in English. There is a man in Peru who says that Latin America needs an indigenous network; he has a project to create an all-Spanish network bypassing the U.S.
Government controls vary in Latin American countries; in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, the government through the institutions of higher learning, have controlled what is on the Internet and in some cases laws have been passed to keep the Internet free from "undesirable content" - nothing so extreme as in Singapore, which keeps rigid control - but censorship of sorts and control of public access.
Latin Americans fear that the new technologies will be used as a tool of repression in the hands of the government, and in Chile as elsewhere, the fear has some basis in history For 17 years the Pinochet regime relentlessly persecuted journalists and other citizens who published news critical of the government. There is considerable precedent for people being harshly punished for open expression of opinion.
Another consideration that weighs heavily on the minds of Latin Americans and North Americans alike is access for profit versus a non-profit system; the fear is that big American companies like ITT or MCI will take over the Internet and will charge for access, and the business part of the Internet will grow and take over the research, academic, and non-profit side. The groups most concerned with this issue are the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) who depend heavily on free access to the Internet to keep in contact with their people in the field and with other NG’s. Brazil and Chile each have more than 5,000 of these institutions connected by networks to institutes and universities such as GEONET, ENVIRONET, and PEACENET.
Chile is long, narrow and centralized. In spite of many efforts, decentralization has not been accomplished, but the geographical difficulties which made it impossible to lay cables from Tierra del Fuego to Valparaiso are obviated today by fiber optic technology with no less than three companies vying for the privilege of laying down submarine cables.
In Chile information is housed solely at the universities, which restricts access to the public. It is still very difficult to find information (especially if the patron does not belong to the elite) and to find current information is virtually impossible. Owners of small businesses in the chemical industry are still working with patents from 1916. The phenomenon of the new information technologies is now making current data available to the university elite, but the smaller enterprises and ordinary citizens are in real danger of becoming information-poor in top of their other handicaps.
Perhaps Chile would benefit by adopting another country’s system, for example France, which developed the highly successful public access Minitel and distributed it free to homes, stores, and post offices throughout France. Some features of the French Minitel system are the provision of inexpensive services, user-friendly screens, simplified hierarchies, and accessible sites. This is probably a pipe dream for Chile, because the country does not have the resources that an implementation of such a system would demand. Furthermore, the Chilean culture dislikes communication via machines. Unlike Americans who can do without talking to a human, Chileans - for all the frustrations of standing in lines - are reluctant to let go of the socially-enriching contact which would be lost in a machine.
The situation of public access in Latin America is best exemplified by Jose Soriano, who in 1994, connected the first computer network to the NSF backbone in his native country, Peru. Peru’s Internet services attracted 8,000 members and is among the fastest-growing Internet providers. The Peruvian success could be extended to the rest of Latin America by linking all of the Latin American countries via satellite on an all-Spanish network embedded in the culture, economy, and politics of Latin America and bypassing the United States. The chance for economic survival and the information revolution are going to be their databases.
1. NASFNET Networks by Country. April 01, 1995. Available by http://www.nw.com/zone/www/top.html
2. The map shows the countries while the text shows connections: United States, Canada, and Germany were connected in 1988; NSFNET Networks by Country as of 01 April 1995. Available by http:www.nw.com
3. The map shows the position of the universities and the relative position of the two observatories: one American and one European. Presently in Chile there are three of these national networks connected to the Internet: CONICYT, REUNA and RDC S.A. CONICYT is the National Commission for Science and Technology; (governmental) it has about 80 networks and more than 500 clients covering 4,345 kilometers. It is CONICYT’s role to implement a national information network to support scientific and technological activity by establishing infrastructure for communication between researchers at the national and international level by expediting the access to available scientific information both in the country and abroad. In 1992, CONICYT agreed to be part of an association formed by 19 Chilean institutions of higher learning to cooperatively manage REUNA, which resulted in REUNA the national university network (Red Universitaria Nacional) being integrated into Internet through a high-speed channel. CONICYT’s programs and services have been available since 1993 through the server at REUNA. REUNA, helped at inception in 1987 by funding from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has paid since 1992 for satellite connections to SURAnet, one of the fastest on-ramp access to the Internet in South America and the only satellite that carries only data in Chile; the high-speed cable provides a speed of 516 kbps and it is expected that at the end of 1995 Chile will have a T-1 connection. The third network RED DE COMPUTADORES S.A. began in 1992 as a joint project by the University of Santiago, Catholic of Valparaiso and Catholic of Chile with the goal to establish a Chilean network; presently RDC S.A. covers the country’s capital, Santiago.
4. Stephan R. Ruth and Raul Gouet, Must Invisible College Be Invisible? An Approach to Examining Large Communities of Network Users. Internet Research (Spring 1993): 36-53.
Eric Arnum, Correlation of GNP/GDP to Number of Internet Hosts in July 1994.
5. In Chile there are 4 Internet providers:
* Chilenet (DCC U. de Chile)
* RDC: it offers access to individuals and enterprises
* REUNA: expanded phone lines providing service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
-added telephone support 7-11 M-F Sat 9-6 services chargeable to credit cards
-Charges: SLIP connection UF 2 plus IVA (one time charge) support UF 1,5 plus IVA
* Tasco: this server will offer the user an opportunity to interactively buy computer products. This provider offers:
-connections through modems of 28,800 bps or 115,200 bps (compression)
-access to CD-ROMS so the user does not need to use servers abroad
6. Larry Landweber, International Connectivity Version 13 - February 15, 1995.
Bolivia has only UUCP and FIDONET; Columbia has less than five BITNET, Internet and less than five UUCP; Costa Rica has Internet and modest UUCP and FIDONET connections; Ecuador and Nicaragua have Internet connections and less that five UUCP sites; Mexico has more than five BITNET sites, IP Internet connections, less than five UUCP sites, and more than five FIDONET sites; Paraguay has less than five UUCP sites no IP Internet connectivity while Peru has Internet connections, more than five UUCP sites and less than five FIDONET sites; Puerto Rico has less than five BITNET sites but plenty of IP Internet connections and UUCP and FIDONET sites, Uruguay and Venezuela both have IP Internet access, more than five UUCP, and more than five FIDONET sites. Note that the U.S. has the full range of BITNET, IP Internet, UUCP, and FIDONET and ISO sites while Cuba has only UUCP sites; Nicaragua has less than five UUCP sites.