Broadband Internet adoption in both the residential and business sectors is vital for Puerto Rico’s economic development because it can serve as a tool to create jobs and promote businesses, said Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico.
The telecom executive was part of a panel discussing broadband Internet at the 2014 Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association Convention, which took place over the weekend.
“If you look at several exiting stats, many of them simply say that for every 10 percent of broadband penetration, there is at least a 1 percent increase in a country’s gross domestic product,” he said as part of the panel for a conference titled “Broadband Infrastructure and its Impact in the prosperity and competitively of nations.”
During his speech, Khoury offered several facts on the importance of broadband Internet implementation not just in the business sector but the residential sector as well.
One of the challenges that the executive mentioned was that Puerto Rico had reached a broadband Internet penetration of 50 percent to 60 percent but remains stuck there. The reason for this lack of progress, he said is not a lack of access as it is commonly believed, but rather lack of education on its usefulness.
“There are many that don’t have broadband Internet at home because they don’t see the need for it,” Khoury explained. “They have Internet in their mobile phones but accessing it this way is not the same. You can’t access I with the same security or speed as you can through broadband.”
Khoury not only spoke about the importance of having a broadband connection for residential and business customers, he also mentioned the challenges that telecoms have to provide this service.
“Today, Internet is so crucial to daily life at home and the office that if we were to poll our customers, they would tell us that they could bear to be without cable or phone service for an hour but they could not be without Internet for an hour. Everything comes to a halt if they don’t have Internet. What does that mean? Internet has to be reliable, fast and can’t fail,” he said.
Broadband and education
Khoury also pointed out that broadband Internet access has greatly impacted education because many schools now require their students to do research online and even encourage them to use digital textbooks to cut costs. It also promotes the creation of a knowledge-based society.
Broadband Internet has also improved the quality of field professionals because these are not merely technicians who visit homes and lay cables in the ground. Many of them have college degrees and receive better salaries than they did 10 years ago.
“Broadband Internet pushes us to hire better employees who are skillful and we pay them more.” Khoury said.
However, getting personnel of this caliber to fill their positions has become a true challenge for Internet providers because many potential candidates leave the island. Khoury explained that many times, they have no other choice but to hire people from outside the island, which is more expensive but sometimes they don’t want to make the trip either.
Regarding home Internet users, Khoury said what they want the most is a reliable connection, which broadband can give them safely. He added that home users can also become agents of economic activity by generating the need to create applications. This generates competition, creates jobs and stimulates the economy.
Broadband also encourages people to continue educating themselves by providing information on what is happening outside the island while motivating businesses and agencies to serve them online
“Home users push companies and government agencies to serve them online. The amount of people that still go to a store to pay or stand in line at a bank to make transactions is absurd. That creates inefficiency,” said Khoury. “Broadband Internet provides efficiency. Efficiency creates more movement. The final result is that home users adjust to technology and they use it.”
The same applies to business owners who think that incorporating broadband in their operations makes them more complicated, he believes. The biggest benefit is that broadband can make businesses more efficient and help them utilize their resources better. It also generates jobs and economic activity by creating a need to hire consultants and experts to implement broadband, create webpages and use social media to promote those businesses.
Although there is great acceptance and activity in social media on the island, which is a very positive factor, the telecom exec added that this is not necessarily a success indicator of broadband penetration in Puerto Rico.
Khoury concluded his presentation by highlighting five hurdles that stand in the way of broadband adoption growth on the island: lack of access, high subscription costs, digital literacy, relevance and access to Internet from somewhere else. The executive debated the veracity of the first two, referring to them as mistaken general impressions.
“What keeps broadband penetration low on the island is not lack of access or costs. It’s a lack of education and trust in technology today,” said Khoury. “Regarding costs, there is plenty of competition out there. You can get a broadband plan at a decent price. What is happening now is that people on the island are making tough economic decisions.”
“They have a mobile phone with a data plan and a fixed line connection. If they just have $40, what do they do? They keep the mobile plan and get rid of the fixed line,” he said. “There are people that also think that the Internet is not relevant to them, especially older populations.”
To remove these obstacles, Khoury noted it is imperative to educate people on broadband’s value as a resource that can improve their lives. The executive concluded inciting the government to work with the industry to remove these obstacles and stimulate broadband adoption in Puerto Rico