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Volume 25, No. 5

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June / July 1999

 

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Case Studies on Developments of the Internet in Latin America: Unexpected Results


 by Saul Hahn

Through the Hemisphere Wide Inter-University Scientific and Technological Information Network (RedHUCyT) project, the Organization of American States (OAS) helped local initiatives in the member states in either the creation or expansion of networks in their countries. Through the years, RedHUCyT became a major contributing force for the development of the Internet in Latin America and the Caribbean region. Many country connections to the Internet were established for the first time through the project's sponsorship. The project provides high-tech equipment, technical support and specialized training. In addition, RedHUCyT sponsors workshops and seminars in the region in order to improve skills, share knowledge and train network managers. Experts trained under the project's programs have, in some cases, become entrepreneurs in their own countries. Initial work with the academic sector resulted in an unexpected partnership among government-university-private sector a cooperative effort that produced vigorous development of the Internet in the region.

Close collaboration was established with many agencies, in particular the U.S. National Science Foundation. The United States and other member states provided substantial funding. To match OAS contributions of training, equipment and seed funding, the governments of the member states have made major investments in telecommunications. Recently, the Inter-American Council for Integral Development of the OAS (CIDI) provided additional funding for the project.

Computer networking in Latin America and the Caribbean is a relatively new phenomenon. Most of the networks were established only during the past four years. Previously, several countries had e-mail facilities only, in the form of store and forward UUCP or similar connections, i.e., non-real time capabilities and no interactivity.

In 1989, Mexico was the first country in Latin America to connect to full interactive Internet. Since the introduction of Web-based systems, many of the regional networks have grown impressively. The Internet research company, Network Wizards (http://nw.com), reports that several nations within the region have more than 1000 hosts each (as of January, 1999). (See graphic.) These statistics include only geographic or "country code," ccTLD, domains. For example, "br" for Brazil, "mx" for Mexico, "ve" for Venezuela and so on. They do not account for hosts in the countries registered in the "generic top level domains," gTLD, ("com", "org", "net" and others) which may increase the number of domains by 15 to 25%, depending on the country. The sum of the ccTLD and gTLD comprise the totality of the Top Level Domains, known as TLD. In Panama, for instance, most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are registered as "com." The academic network PANNET operates under the ccTLD domain "pa." Regardless, connectivity in the region remains small compared to the more advanced countries. The number of Internet users in the region consists of only two or three per cent of the total world wide Internauts.

Following the recommendations of the Plan of Action that emanated from the Summit of the Americas (Miami, 1994), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE), the Costa Rican Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Network of Costa Rica (CRNet) agreed to interconnect the academic networks in Central America using the current infrastructure developed within the framework of the RedHUCyT. Recently, the OAS provided an earth station for satellite communication, which enhances the capability of CRNet. Also, funding for satellite facilities was recently provided to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and to MAYANeT in Guatemala. This facility is currently fully operational. Previously, the OAS had provided Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and Paraguay with ground stations for satellite communication.

Today, all of the Latin American and most of the Caribbean countries are fully connected to the Internet. Some of these networks have become national service providers with thousands of users. However, the Summit's Plan of Action encourages further expansion of the telecommunications and information infrastructure, ensuring that the benefits of these technologies will be available to all members of our societies. The Plan of Action, building on the work of the RedHUCyT project, stresses that major universities, libraries, hospitals and government agencies in all member states must have access to information networks. Through RedHUCyT, the OAS is now focusing on expanding the Internet by supporting the growth of local area networks in order to provide the service to many more individuals.

Case Studies

Paraguay is located in the central part of South America and is a member of MERCOSUR along with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. In 1995, the OAS, through RedHUCyT, in coordination with the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion and the Catholic University, established a project to install the first fully interactive Internet node in the country. At the time, the PTT (ANTELCO) could not provide a high-speed circuit outside the country because of lack of infrastructure. Therefore the adopted solution was for the OAS to provide an earth station for satellite communication. The universities paid for the recurrent telecommunication satellite link to Homestead, Florida. The National Science Foundation (NSF), an OAS partner in these projects, paid for the "port charge" connection in the United States to allow Internet access. The OAS also provided for additional equipment like routers, modems and workstations, as well as training and consultants.

This new technology provided Paraguay with a technological boost because for the first time it allowed students and professors at the university to learn a new form of communication and access to information. This was a new medium quite different from the basic telephony to which they were accustomed. Very soon new ISPs were established in Paraguay, some of these managed by the same students who participated in the original installation at the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion. Also, private companies realized the incredible potential that this technology could offer to their businesses and started to install similar equipment. Some companies, especially banks, used this technology and created private networks. Companies like Uninet, Netvision, Rieder and others were established in Asuncion, the capital city.

It is remarkable that this project, which began at the university level to provide Internet access for students and professors, grew into a major development for the country. Companies like IBM and Citibank started to use satellite technology for their private use. Previously, this was not even contemplated because of the lack of personnel trained in the use of telecommunications and information equipment. This, in turn, reduced costs for these corporations and facilitated access to their offices both in Paraguay and abroad. Some ISP were also established outside the capital city. Some companies that have installed this infrastructure include:

  • EDESA: commercial company, with one central station and three remote ones;
  • BNF-Cellular: banking, one central and 17 remote stations;
  • Bank of Parana: banking, one central and five remote stations; and
  • Ministerio de Hacienda: government, one central and 17 remote stations.
  • The OAS/RedHUCyT is currently funding similar projects in Guatemala and Jamaica. Funds to purchase earth stations were provided to both countries earlier this year. RedHUCyT played a key role in establishing the first full Internet connection in these countries. In Guatemala, the first Internet connections were established in 1996 at seven universities and research centers. The implementation was coordinated with the National Research and Technology Council of Guatemala. In Jamaica, the coordinating institution was the University of the West Indies (UWI). Consultants from the National Network of Costa Rica assisted in the implementation of both of these projects in the earlier stages. The new antenna will also be installed at UWI. This is possible because new regulatory policies have now been adopted in the country, allowing institutions such as UWI to operate this equipment independently.

    There is no question that these projects in Guatemala and Jamaica will allow further development of satellite technologies, as described in the case of Paraguay. Last year a similar project was established in Costa Rica and the antenna is now fully operational to the point of saturation. CRNeT is currently negotiating for more bandwidth with the satellite provider. Guatemala has recently been informed that they will also increase their bandwidth to 512Kbps from their current 256Kbps, for the new antenna!

    A very interesting project, also sponsored by OAS/RedHUCyT, is Intered in Panama. The first full Internet connections in Panama were established under the leadership of Universidad Tecnologica de Panama. Funded by the OAS, the first Internet nodes were established at the Universidad Tecnologica, Universidad de Panama and Universidad Antigua de Santa Maria. Thereafter, several commercial ISPs were established in Panama. The largest have their own independent satellite connections to the United States. The problem was that customers of different providers had to interchange packets through these satellite connections, even for local traffic. With the implementation of Intered this is no longer necessary. Intered is a national access point that allows the interchange of local information without leaving the country. This project, under the leadership of the National Secretariat for Science and Technology, is truly a model for the region. Important technical support for the project was also provided by the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) of the University of Oregon. Intered has its own organization and is funded by its members according to its by-laws.

    Conclusion

    All of these projects, originally established to allow access to the academic community, had totally unexpected ramifications for other sectors, especially the commercial one. These results encouraged the development of the telecommunication sector due to the introduction of satellite technologies and advanced information systems. But, most importantly, this expansion was possible due to the development of specialized human resources capable of handling and implementing these complex technologies within their own countries in a self-sustaining manner.

    The author wishes to acknowledge Gerardo Jimenez Guerra from Interlink Communications, Inc. for his excellent private report and communication on Paraguay. He describes in detail the commercial companies in Paraguay that became involved with the satellite technology after the OAS project with the universities.

    Latin America and the Caribbean

    Numbers of Interconnected Hosts

    January 1999

    Brazil

    215,086

    Mexico

    112,620

    Argentina

    66,454

    Chile

    30,103

    Colombia

    16,200

    Uruguay

    15,394

    Venezuela

     7,912

    Dominican Republic

    4,825

    Peru

    4,794

    Costa Rica

    3,261

    Trinidad and Tobago

    1,944

    Ecuador

    1,548

    Paraguay

    1,147



    Saul Hahn is coordinator, Basic Sciences and Networking, Office of Science and Technology, Organization of American States. He can be reached by e-
    mail at SHahn@oas.org The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the OAS.
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