The Latin America and Caribbean regions still suffer from a serious lag in the adoption and use of information and communications technology (ICT) despite infrastructure improvements, an expansion of coverage and a push into e-government, according to the World Economic Forum’s Technology Report 2013 released a few moments ago.
“Weaknesses in the political and regulatory environment, the existence of large segments of the population with a low skills base and poor development of the innovation system are all factors hindering Latin America’s technological potential,” the report says, noting that “broadband, 3G and the intelligent use of big data could…revitalize economic growth.”
The report, which ranks countries by their technological readiness, placed Puerto Rico in 36th place out of 144, a position the island has held on to for several years.
The report puts Puerto Rico in an advantageous position compared to other countries in the region. The island ranks first in the Caribbean and the second in Latin America after Chile (34). Barbados (39), Panama (46) and Uruguay (52) round out the top five regional classification.
The index, which measures a jurisdiction’s performance based on 10 “pillars,” shows that the island is stumbling on two significant areas: in the effectiveness of its law-making bodies, ranking 115, and mobile phone subscription rates, where it stands at 105 out of 144.
However, the island seems to be performing acceptably in other areas, namely the business and innovation environment, where it has done well in competition (17), availability of the latest technology (31), and number of days to start a business (6). In terms of individual use, Puerto Rico residents took 9th place in the region for their adoption of social networks, the WEF report shows.
“Puerto Rico shows a digital paradox,” said Francisco Montalvo-Fiol, Professor at the International Competitiveness Institute of the Inter American University, Bayamón Campus and local coordinator of the WEF.
“The island ranks as the 9th most active in social networks worldwide, but lags behind in Internet penetration (59) and home computers (51),” he said. “Puerto Rico has the potential to successfully use ICT within the context of a creative economy in areas such as programming, video games and cultural and recreational activities, among other areas.”
In the pillar that measures government usage, Puerto Rico ranked 64th in terms of the importance of ICT within its vision and promotion (49). Coincidentally perhaps, the report is being released a day after the García-Padilla administration signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft Corp. to focus on cloud-based development and inserting ICT into the business mainstream.
“The success of a country in leveraging ICTs and achieving the desired economic and social benefits will depend on its overall environment — including market conditions, the regulatory framework, and innovation-prone conditions — to boost innovation and entrepreneurship,” the WEF said.
As for business integration of ICT elements, the WEF report showed that firm-level technology absorption among Puerto Rico enterprises took a 26th place ranking, while staff training garnered a 19.
“The links between ICTs (their tools, services, and models) on the one hand and the unwavering importance of competitiveness, growth, and jobs on the other have never before been the subject of so much attention and concern,” the WEF said in its report.
“The growing availability of technology has empowered citizens of both developed and emerging economies with fairly good access to the digital world. The rise of cloud computing has reduced the competitive differentials in technology availability across larger and smaller firms,” the agency said.
Meanwhile, in its report, the WEF plays up what has been done in several countries in Latin America to embrace ICT, saying Colombia, Uruguay and Panama have become “champions of e-government and connectivity.”
In Colombia, Internet connections have tripled to 6.2 million in the last 2.5 years. In Uruguay, small and medium-sized tech enterprises helped lift technology exports from $50 million in 2000 to $225 million in 2010.
“Several challenges remain: public funds to build infrastructure are limited, and many people cannot afford Internet access. Nevertheless, e-government has already improved the lives of Latin Americans,” the WEF said.