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Urban Colombia Country Overview
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Colombia has experienced strong growth over the past five years, both economically and in the spread of new information and communication technologies (ICTs). Although the country has been hit hard recently by the recent global recession Colombia’s gross domestic product per capita between 2000 and 2008, to $4985 from$2223. Over the same period, the number of mobile phone subscribers per 100 inhabitants soared to 91.9 from 10.6, while internet users per 100 inhabitants jumped to 36.6 from 4.6.
According to InterMedia survey data, urban Colombians stack up relatively well against their regional neighbors in access and use of ICTs. In 2009, 58 percent of survey respondents in urban Colombia reported using the internet at least once a month, compared to 59 percent urban Peruvians in a similar survey there. A 2008 survey in urban Brazil showed this measure at 69 percent. Similarly, in the International Telecommunication Union’s 2009 ICT Development Index, which seeks to measure how well a country has utilized ICTs towards development, Colombia was ranked 70th out of 154 countries, higher than Peru at 74th but below Brazil at 60th.
Colombia’s success in expanding ICT access can be partly attributed to market liberalization and key public-private partnerships focused on fulfilling its Universal Service policies. One central element in the expansion of Colombia’s ICT markets was the liquidation of the state telecom, Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, in June 2003. The government replaced the heavily indebted telecom with Colombia Telecomunicaciones (Colombia Telecom). Spain’s Telefónica acquired an operating share in the company in 2006, leading to greater operations efficiency and new investment in Colombia’s telecommunications infrastructure.
The entrance of new mobile phone providers, specifically Comcel and Tigo (Colombia Movil) in 2003 and Spain’s Telefonica in 2006 has created a competitive market. The state telecommunications regulator has also sought to keep the cost of owning a mobile phone down by placing caps on fees, such as those placed on inter-network connections.
Aside from these newer ICTs, urban Colombians have shown a healthy appetite for more traditional media. Overall, television continues to be the medium of choice for Colombians. Home television and radio access is nearly universal, as is weekly use. Newspaper readership also continues to be high with 38 percent saying they read papers daily and a total of 67 percent reading at least weekly.
Despite Colombia’s significant economic and ICT advances in recent years, the country as a whole continues to be plagued by high levels of poverty, economic inequality and insecurity. Colombia’s continuing civil conflict has made a major impact on the country’s overall economy and has affected the government’s ability to provide services in rural areas. Many of the advances in ICTs in recent years have been confined mainly to urban Colombians, to which this study is focused.
Colombia’s progress toward reaching its 2015 Millennium Development Goals has been mixed. United Nations Development Programme reports indicate that while Colombia has performed well in improving access to education and children’s health, it is moving slowly on reducing poverty and destitution. Compounding these problems is the recent global recession which has exacerbated the vast income divide that already existed within the Colombian economy.
There are a number of state initiated and non-governmental programs that are attempting to bridge Colombia’s urban-rural ICT gap and put these technologies to work for social and economic development. One of the most successful public-private partnerships seeking to expand ICT access has been COMPARTEL, a part of the state’s Universal Service Fund. COMPARTEL's social telephony programs aim to guarantee the provision of community telecommunications services in underserved areas through the construction of multipurpose community telecentres (MCTs). These MCTs often provide internet access as well as public telephony access, and they are often located in schools to enhance their educational impact. COMPARTEL has implemented a competitive bidding scheme for private operators, in which local entrepreneurs in each respective community will operate an MCT while receiving support from a network and management organization.
The effort of these MCTs has been enhanced by the work of local and international NGOs For example, the Academia Nacional de Telecentros de Colombia focuses on strengthening the capacity of MCT managers through online coursework. Avanza a web portal supported by the Washington, D.C.-based Development Gateway Foundation works with local civil society groups in the application of ICTs for sustainable development and poverty reduction. The information sharing platform offers news, events, databases of non-governmental organizations and experts, and virtual courses.
 “World Economic Outlook Database- Colombia.” International Monetary Fund. April 2009. Washington, DC. Accessed October 2009. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/01/weodata/index.aspx.
 “ICT Statistics Database.” International Telecommunication Union. Geneva, Switzerland. Accessed October 2009. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspx?ReportName=/WTI/CellularSubscribersPublic&RP_intYear=2008&RP_intLanguageID=1.
 Measuring the Information Society - The ICT Development Index.” International Telecommunications Union. Geneva, Switzerland. Accessed October 2009. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/index.html.
 “Colombia.” MDG Monitor. New York, NY. Accessed October 2009. http://www.mdgmonitor.org/country_reports.cfm?c=COL&cd=170. And Vanovac, Neda. “Colombia falls behind on millennium development goals.” Colombia Reports. 14 October 2009. Medellin, Colombia. Accessed October 2009. http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/6386-colombia-falls-behind-on-millennium-development-goals.html.