Mexico struggles to emerge from 'digital abyss'

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico is falling behind in the Internet age, with only 28 percent of the population having Internet access -- ranking behind Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina.
Written by Lauren Villagran, Correspondent (Mexico City)

MEXICO CITY -- Antonio Eduardo studies computer science in college but doesn’t have Internet access at home.

He is a 20-year-old student of Mexico City’s National Polytechnic Institute, and although he owns a computer, he can only get online at school or at one of the capital’s two dozen subsidized “cyber centers.”

Mexico is lagging behind in the Internet age. Just 28 percent of the population has Internet access. That puts Mexico behind Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, where 30 percent to 40 percent of the population is connected online.

It’s the digital divide, or what Aleph Molinari—president of a foundation called Proacceso that runs free computer centers in Mexico City’s poor outskirts—calls the “digital abyss.”

“The Internet should not be a luxury,” Molinari said in TEDx speech in October. “It should be a right, because it is a basic social necessity of the 21st Century. We can’t operate without it.”

About 35 percent of Mexican households had a computer at the start of 2010, according to a report by the Mexican Internet Association. That statistic worsens considerably when split along economic lines: The penetration of computers in households at the top of the economic pyramid was 5.5 times that of households at the bottom.

More than half of the households that don’t have a computer or Internet access report that they didn’t purchase either because they didn’t have the money, according to a 2011 joint study by civil organizations, information technology trade associations and Mexico’s congress.

That study forms the basis for a call for a national “Digital Agenda,” which would articulate Mexico’s goals around information technology and communication. Mexico is the only country in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that doesn’t have a national “Digital Agenda.”

The good news is that access to the Internet is spreading, with the number of Internet subscribers projected by the joint study to grow 17 percent between through 2013.

Omar Tenorio, 22, works at one of Mexico City’s free cyber centers where Antonio Eduardo and about 400 other people stop in daily to use one of the 19 computers on hand to look something up online or send a quick email.

Some people complain about the 30-minute limit, he said, “but others literally tell us we saved their lives.”

Photo: Lauren Villagran

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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