Information and Communication Technology Colombia

Remarks by Assistant Secretary Arun Venkataraman - August 31, 2022

Andicom 2022 Trade Show, Bogota, Colombia
August 31, 2022

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you, Manuel, for your kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be here today for the opening of Andicom and it is my honor to be representing the United States in our role as Guest Nation.

Thank you, President Petro, for outlining your vision for Colombia in an increasingly digital future. The United States looks forward to opportunities to work with you and your government on digital priorities, especially as they contribute to our shared goals of sustainable economic growth, greater connectivity, and equity. Ministers, government officials, private sector companies from around the region and beyond, thank you for joining us today. I’d also like to extend a special thank you to CINTEL, for bringing us together at this impressive conference and trade show. Finally, I would like to thank the U.S. company conference sponsors and pavilion participants for their support for this event.

We are truly delighted to have the role of Guest Nation this year, as we celebrate 200 years of bilateral relations between the United States and Colombia. After two centuries, our relationship remains enduring, strong, and multifaceted. We have long shared the goal of building a prosperous, secure, and democratic hemisphere, and we look forward to continuing this work together with the Petro Administration. As part of this deep and multifaceted relationship, we recognize that Colombia is a leader and important trade partner in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector. 

We have strong and growing bilateral trade and investment in the sector, supported by our U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which also marks an important anniversary-10 years-this year. The agreement has helped improve market access, transparency, and intellectual property rights protections in the sector. As a result, we’ve seen telecommunications services trade grow by almost 160 percent since the agreement went into effect, and U.S. investment in computer and electronics manufacturing in Colombia has grown by more than 560 percent since 2011. 

This growth reflects the fact that technology plays an increasingly important role in accelerating economic development and in enhancing productivity and competitiveness for businesses of all kinds. Nothing made this clearer than the last two years. In the wake of the pandemic, e-commerce grew 18% in 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and businesses that went online increased their sales as much as 20 to 30 percentage points higher than their peers that did not. Emerging technologies, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain, help businesses innovate, make their processes more efficient, and allow them to more easily integrate into today’s global supply chains.  

U.S. technology companies are at the forefront of innovation, capability, and sustainability. They create solutions that drive sustainable economic growth, and, to echo the theme of the conference, help boost the competitiveness of businesses of all shapes and sizes – including many right here in Colombia. But, as the theme of this conference makes clear, it is not enough for technology to boost business – we must ensure that it boosts society as well. We are proud that U.S. technology partners clearly embody this benefit to Colombian business and society.

For example, U.S. healthcare technology companies like Medtronic, Baxter, and Abbott provide cutting-edge solutions to help solve the world’s most challenging health issues and allow doctors and hospitals to work quickly, safely, and more efficiently. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring were essential to maintaining patient care during the pandemic and continue to help patients in remote areas access healthcare. Or, take the case of the Colombian Institute for the Evaluation of Education (ICFES). When the pandemic hit, ICFES needed to manage online exams in a secure and scalable way for more than 300,000 students. This put extreme demands on the Institute’s physical servers housed in a local data center. ICFES turned to U.S. company Amazon Web Services (AWS) to continue administering and tabulating student assessments throughout the pandemic. Using Amazon’s cloud services, ICFES was able to dynamically scale its computing and storage resources to meet its needs - made possible by AWS’ global network of interoperable servers. Amazon, which opened its first office in Colombia four years ago, now has 3,000 employees – many of them working virtually from communities across the country.

In order to achieve successes like these, governments must continue to work together to promote an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure digital future. Building alliances to advance the digital economy and enable digital trade between our countries, and across the region more broadly, is a top priority for the U.S. government. The United States is thankful to Colombia and other Latin American nations’ partnership in the Declaration for the Future of the Internet (known as DFI), an affirmative political commitment endorsed by 60 other partners from around the world, including 9 countries in the Americas. We hope that other countries from the Americas will endorse the Declaration and join us at the upcoming ministerial meeting in Prague in November.

To advance the DFI’s principles, the United States is engaging partners on a wide range of policy issues critical to securing the benefits of technology for all citizens, including: commercial data flows and data privacy, spectrum allocation for the next-generation wireless ecosystem, 5G deployment, cybersecurity, digital connectivity, and emerging technologies such as AI. And, like our friends in the Petro Administration, we know that working together with all stakeholders on these issues, including the private sector, is vital in order for governments to meet their objectives for their people. 

We are energized by the vast scope for collaboration that digital technology offers the United States and Colombia. One such area relates to data protection and data privacy. We know well that data flows underpin virtually every aspect of the digital economy and are already critical to ensuring that technology delivers solutions to our neediest populations. However, countries still vary significantly in their data policies and laws—with many focused on restricting the flow of data beyond their own borders. Of course, because the international flow of data so often involves personal and commercially sensitive information—we also recognize the importance of privacy and data protection. Balancing cross-border data flows and data privacy requires an international framework that is interoperable, scalable, and enforceable. The U.S. government believes that the best path forward to ensure that data protection does not disrupt global data flows and is one built on cooperation and respect for sovereignty. 

This is why the United States is promoting and expanding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) System beyond that forum. The APEC CBPR System promotes interoperability and helps bridge different regulatory approaches to data protection and privacy by establishing data privacy certifications and codes of conduct that help companies demonstrate compliance with internationally recognized data privacy standards. Members of the APEC CBPR System recently announced the establishment of the Global CBPR Forum and have encouraged Colombia to become a member. Colombia’s participation in the Global CBPR System would give Colombian companies / access to major markets through a common certification – we hope Colombia will consider joining.

A similar case study for interoperability and collaboration is in the advanced wireless ecosystem. We are seeing the latest generations of wireless technologies, such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 & 7, enter the market and deliver even more enhanced capabilities and innovation. The future wireless ecosystem will require a network of diverse, interoperable technologies. To realize the full potential these technologies can offer, the right policies must be in place. In 2020, the U.S. government made the decision to open the full 6 GHz spectrum band for next-generation Wi-Fi and unlicensed technologies. As a result, our economy is already experiencing new innovations for advanced manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality applications, precision agriculture, distance learning, telemedicine, and other applications that will keep the U.S. in a leading position in the global digital economy. For instance, U.S. farmers are utilizing the enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity for precise allocation of resources to produce optimal crop yields. Wi-Fi provides low-cost wireless connectivity for farmers to deploy even more sensors and detectors in the soil / that allow them to monitor moisture levels at multiple depths, indicate nutrient content, and measure how the nutrient content changes in response to the application of fertilizer. The data from these connected sensors improve efficiency, save on costs to the farmers, and promote a healthier environment and agricultural lands through better water management and reduced use of artificial fertilizers.

These kinds of innovations, delivering meaningful outcomes to people of all backgrounds, are by no means limited to the United States. That is why we are working with our partners and allies to pursue international harmonization in countries’ approach on the 6 GHz band. If successful, consumers in every part of the world can experience the same benefits and economic advances. But a broad international approach like this is also built by the efforts of individual countries – like Colombia. I understand that Colombia’s National Spectrum Agency (ANE) has already recommended that Colombia join its partners in the region in allocating the full 6 GHz spectrum band to Wi-Fi and unlicensed technologies. We look forward to seeing the decision finalized soon so that all Colombian communities can have access to tools such as IT-enabled agriculture for expanded productivity, enhanced remote education, and wireless bandwidth speeds equivalent to urban centers.

Another critical area of cooperation is cybersecurity. According to a MasterCard study, 73 percent of Colombians report having been the victim of cybercriminals in some way and 27 percent state that at least one company had failed to protect their personal information. To address this type of challenge, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, developed a Cybersecurity Framework, which we have been sharing with partner countries around the world. This framework helps organizations better manage their cybersecurity risks, such as threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts, and provides a common language that enables staff from all levels to better understand their organization’s cybersecurity risks.  In addition, the Framework helps organizations respond to and recover from cybersecurity incidents by analyzing root causes and considering improvements for the future – thereby reducing future risks.  We encourage our partners to look to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as they design their own frameworks, and we stand open and ready to cooperate in this area. 

There is also an essential, multi-dimensional relationship between digital technologies and the fight to mitigate, adapt to, and build resilience against climate change – yet another shared priority between our two governments. Increased use of digital technology across all sectors can increase operational efficiencies and reduce waste while also increasing productivity. For example, U.S. company Smart Wires provides hardware, software, and services that help balance electricity flow through transmission lines, thereby stabilizing power flow, eliminating power surges, and enabling greater renewable energy integration into grid networks. They’ve completed multiple projects across Colombia and just last month opened a subsidiary in Medellin, serving as Smart Wires operational hub for Latin America and employing 18 Colombian engineers.  

Digital solutions will also be key to help governments monitor, predict, and react to climate change impacts. Google is working in Colombia to expand its flood forecasting tool, a system that uses public data and machine learning models to identify hyper local flood forecasts and create alerts on the risk of flooding to the users of Google Search, Maps, and Notifications sent directly to their smart phones. Such tools have become increasingly important as adverse weather events grow in frequency because of climate change. To support these efforts, ITA has launched its Clean Technologies Export Competitiveness Strategy to boost innovation and trade in clean technology solutions, ensuring that our partners have access to the latest technologies so that we can together take on this challenge. As Colombia and countries across the region take decisive actions to meet their climate commitments, the U.S. private sector looks forward to serving as a capable and enthusiastic partner.

Which brings me now to my final – and overarching – priority: equity. Advancing the cause of economic equity is a priority that Colombia and the United States share. Both President Biden and President Petro have made clear from the earliest days of their governments that government policies must be viewed through the lens of equity to ensure that they are benefiting citizens at all economic levels and across our countries. 

Technology has an important role to play as a driver of equity. Information and communication technologies are critical tools for expanding economic benefits to rural and underserved communities and helping businesses grow. Companies with digital marketing platforms, like Meta, Amazon, and Google, help businesses of all kinds, especially those in remote areas, reach their customers in new and innovative ways. They also enable people in rural and remote areas to access educational programs, improving their prospects in the job market. For example, these same companies all offer numerous online ICT-education programs, often partnering with institutions like the National Training Service (SENA, “SAY-nah”) to help improve job prospects from people across Colombia and the region, with a number of programs focused on reaching women entrepreneurs and other historically underserved groups. 

ICT technologies can also help more consumers and businesses qualify for credit. This is especially important for those consumers and businesses based in underserved communities that have the least access to the formal banking system. Technologies developed by companies like TransUnion support financial inclusion in Colombia by qualifying populations without credit history using alternate and trend data. While it is exhilarating to explore the ways in which technology helps advance equity and inclusion, we know that these objectives can only be achieved if we first make sure that communities that have been left out actually have fair and equitable access to digital technologies. After all, as this audience knows better than anyone, whether in the United States or in Colombia, digital inequalities continue to persist across gender, geography, and income. 

Colombia has long prioritized expanding connectivity across the country, especially to remote areas. Companies like Millicom and Hughes Network Systems are helping make this expansion possible. Millicom has invested nearly $1 billion in Colombia, deploying 3,000 antennas increasing mobile penetration in rural areas by 98 percent. Hughes has been helping connect the unconnected with its fleet of high throughput satellites over the region. Hughes brought its satellite internet service, called HughesNet, to Colombia six years ago, and now provides service to tens of thousands of Colombians, many in places where there is no fiber or cable service. 
Under President Biden’s leadership, we are undertaking historic investments to bring connectivity to tens of millions of Americans that do not have access to reliable broadband, and we are committed to supporting similar efforts in our closest partners like Colombia. That is why we included digital connectivity among the four priority areas under the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGII. The PGII is a values-driven, high-impact, and transparent infrastructure partnership launched by President Biden and G7 Leaders in June. By better aligning our government and private sector resources, the PGII can work with partner governments to help meet their enormous infrastructure needs including in the digital space.
In addition, we are supporting institutions like the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, which is working to increase broadband connectivity around the world. 
ITU’s Development Sector has made significant progress on this issue under the direction of Doreen Bogdan-Martin. That’s just one reason that the United States strongly supports her candidacy for Secretary-General of ITU to carry this important work forward.

I truly believe that the ICT sector holds the keys to the future economy and to improving the lives of all our citizens, including those that are most in need. I’m excited to explore the trade show floor later today to learn from the many experts and innovative companies that are here with us. At the Department of Commerce, we are committed to supporting U.S. companies as they bring outstanding technologies, services, solutions, integrity, and expertise to the marketplace, and, in doing so, help support the ambitious vision laid out by President Petro. I would encourage all of you here today to go and meet these companies at our U.S. Pavilion. The connections made today will lead to the successes of the future – and our future depends on all of us working together cooperatively to address some of the challenges I’ve laid out today. 

So, I also encourage both the government officials and private sector companies here to open spaces of meaningful discussion on these issues and work together to find solutions that will enable us to realize our shared goals for our region — a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future. I look forward to seeing the partnership between the United States, our private sector, the government of Colombia, and the countries and companies of the region, continue to grow. I wish you all great success at today’s event. Thank you very much.