Tech blogger Jose Otero wrote a post outlining the strength of ICT (information and communications technology) in Puerto Rico. Otero lists the problems Puerto Rico is facing:
- More than $72 million in debt
- Unemployment rates over 10%
- Falling population as people leave Puerto Rico for the States at rates of more than 7,000 per month
- Nearly half of the population living below the poverty level
Otero goes on to share the position given to Puerto Rico in the 2015 Global Information Technology Report of the World Economic Forum. Puerto Rico is included in the “Country/Economy” profiles, in position 44 of 143, with a score of 4.5 out of a possible 7.
While Puerto Rico slips to a 3.8 on infrastructure and economic impact and 3.9 on government usage, all other metrics show a score of 4 or better, with affordability the highest at 6.5.
“It is important,” Otero says, “to place the information available in an appropriate context to identify the strengths of local industry and improve those areas that are lagging behind.” He further says, “The simple publication of statistics without explaining the context of these can cause more harm than good, because it may give you the impression that there are no obstacles to overcome. This is extremely harmful; without identifying existing problems it is impossible to take corrective measures to solve them.“
Otero points out that Puerto Rico looks good in this report if compared with Latin American and Caribbean nations, but not when it is compared to the States of the nation of which it is a possession. This is the same pattern we see in areas like education, but it is even more significant in the area of ICT. “[M]ajor decisions concerning the local telecommunications market are not taken locally,” Otero says. “Thus, the allocation of radio spectrum for telecommunications services is not separate, but part of a national government strategy to increase the amount of bandwidth spectrum that is used to provide telecommunications services.”
Puerto Rico, then, is part of the telecommunications network of the U.S. and benefits from it — but is far from a position of equality with the States. On metrics like the acquisition of and promotion of new technologies, Puerto Rico fares badly in comparison with the U.S. as a whole. For adoption of broadband, Otero says, Puerto Rico looks like a leader among Latin American economies — but trails 40 States. According to BroadbandNow, about 60.6% of Puerto Rico’s households currently have access to broadband, with just 29.5% having access to high speed broadband. For the U.S. as a whole, the percentage is 93%, but there are states with lower broadband access than Puerto Rico, including Wyoming, Montana, and Vermont.
Puerto Rico’s share of federal ICT funds, however, is not equal to the States. Only 1.1% of federal infrastructure grants have been awarded to Puerto Rico since 2010. And unsteady electricity continues to be an issue for Internet use in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is in many ways ideally suited to IT partnerships with companies in the States. With an educated, largely bilingual (in the same two languages most widely spoken in the U.S.) workforce, shared currency, shared laws, and comparable levels of tech comfort, Puerto Rico’s IT professionals are more compatible with U.S. needs than those in other countries. Many companies would also prefer to hire fellow citizens. Yet the limitations of the infrastructure are an obstacle for Puerto Rico, and little is being done to improve the situation.
Is this the result of comparisons that give the impression that Puerto Rico is in a strong position for communications technology? Otero would say yes to this, but also points out the 95% of the investment in Puerto Rico’s telecommunications infrastructure is conducted by private companies, not by the government. Private companies have their own agendas for infrastructure investments, and they may not focus on the aspects of ICT improvement that would make the most difference for individuals.
On the other hand, an investment in ICT could streamline government in Puerto Rico and increase efficiency — if the government commits to making the necessary changes. “Puerto Rico is currently experiencing one of the worst economic times in its history,” says Otero. “This reality makes it imperative that the government data accurately reflect local dynamics. Transparency in the distribution of information is a necessary step to begin to reverse the current economic situation of the island.”
Otero makes an important point when he says that treating Puerto Rico as though its economy were independent of that of the U.S. leads to false comparisons with Caribbean and Latin American nations. He makes another strong point in saying that the territory’s government could increase efficiency as well as improving Puerto Rico’s economy by making better use of available technology. But Puerto Rico’s territorial status is what causes the high levels of inequality with the States in access to modern technology. Unequal federal funding, a consequence of Puerto Rico’s status, limits Puerto Rico’s ICT development.