Telecommunication Service in Latin America

modernization vs. privatization

In much of Latin America - as in most of the developing world - telephone service is unreliable at best, characterized by low-quality connections and long waiting lists for service. It is generally accepted that a modern telecommunications infrastructure is necessary for the economic development of a nation. At the same time, basic telephone service is now recognized by the UN as a necessary service that should be available to everyone.

Many governments in the developing world (with advice from the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development) are implementing plans for privatization of their telephone companies. It is hoped that privatization will attract foreign capital and introduce competition, thereby improving service. Some of the issues usually ignored is these plans are universal access and worker rights (both taken for granted in the United States) as well as the threat of an unregulated monopoly (always an issue where independent regulatory agencies do not exist).

Wilmer Erroa Argueta is secretary of national and international relations for ASTTEL, the union of telephone workers in El Salvador. The government of El Salvador would like to sell the national telephone company to a multi-national telecommunications corporation. ASTTEL is opposed to this, and has proposed a detailed alternative plan for modernizing El Salvador's telecommunications sector.

On Thursday November 21, 1996, Wilmer spoke at MIT at an event sponsored by TecsChange, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Telecomm Policy Roundtable - Northeast, the MIT Thistle, and others. He gave a history of privatization in El Salvador (including privatization of the banks in 1990), explaind the current state of telecommunications service, and described ASTTEL's alternative plan for modernizing the telecommunications sector.

Prompted by this successful event, TecsChange has started collecting information on the state of telecommunictions around the world, with an emphasis on privatization plans and the plight of workers. The following is a list of articles on this issue.

Of General Interest

Related specifically to El Salvador

Return to TecsChange home page