Brazil recreates Ministry of Communications

The Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovations has been split to revive a new department that will be leading agendas including digital inclusion and 5G.

Brazil's Ministry of Communications has been recreated and a new minister has taken over to lead agendas such as the country's upcoming 5G auction.

The son-in-law of a well-known Brazilian TV presenter, Fábio Faria was named the new communications minister yesterday (17). Faria will be accountable for the national telecommunications policy, as well as the national broadcasting policy and the communications activity relating to the federal government, which relies heavily on channels such as social media.

In his first ministerial speech, Faria pointed out that digitization was key to facing the Covid-19 outbreak, citing the rise in e-commerce to illustrate his points. He cited 5G as key to enabling quality broadband and stressed that technology will have a significant impact on the Brazilian economy. The auction for the 5G spectrum in Brazil could be the largest in the world and, according to the government, remains set to happen in 2020.

The new minister also reinforced his mission of democratizing access to the Internet. Recent research suggests that 71% of Brazilian households currently have access to the Internet, but more than 20 million households are digitally excluded.

"It is a priority to make the digital inclusion process progress at a faster pace as there is still a large proportion of the [Brazilian] population without access to the Internet", Faria said.

Communications had been part of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MCTI, in the Portuguese acronym) since 2016, when then-president Michel Temer merged the ministries as part of an effort to reduce the number of government departments as well as public spending.

Marcos Pontes, an astronaut and Air Force pilot who has been leading the ministry since the start of Jair Bolsonaro's government, lost some influence as part of the recent changes, despite a seemingly supportive discourse:

"Communications are essential. It is an area that needed a strong ministry. Brazil wins with that ", Pontes said about the ministerial changes. "The earthworks are done, the foundation is built, now we need to build the walls," he added.

Pontes then made some brief comments about the "important challenges" facing his ministry in the months ahead, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as his achievements leading communications, such as the delivery of over 12,000 Internet access points through Brazil's first satellite.

Going forward, the MCTI's attributions include oversight of national policies for scientific and technological research and for encouraging innovation, as well as planning, coordination, supervision and control of science, technology and innovation activities, the policy around IT and automation development in addition to biosafety, space and nuclear policies.

Broadband focus

The Brazilian Association of Internet and Telecommunications Providers (ABRINT) welcomed the recreation of the Ministry of Communications and the break up of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations. According to the industry body, the changes allow "an even greater focus on the expansion of broadband in the country."

ABRINT expects the ministerial split will allow the government to dedicate more time and effort to the telecommunications sector, especially when it comes to catering for the demands of regional Internet providers.

"Despite the efforts and competence of the technical areas, the [science and technology ministry] divided its attention across a very wide range of demands and priorities from different sectors", said André Felipe Rodrigues, president of the board at ABRINT.

According to ABRINT, regional providers today account for 33% of the fixed broadband market in Brazil. The 17,000 companies within that segment group serve remote regions and are responsible for digital inclusion and expansion of fiber optic networks in countryside areas, with more than 60% of fiber connections delivered by these players.