Last Mile Initiative in Paraguay - Connecting Underserved Areas

Paraguay’s Telecommunications
Paraguay’s fixed line teledensity and Internet penetration are the lowest in South America. There are approximately 200,000 Internet users (or 3.6% of the population - as of 2006). Although the number of mobile phone subscribers has grown dramatically, service coverage seems to be along the main highways at best. Little has been done to expand services outside the main cities. Speeds offered by the ISPs are limited by the limited infrastructure of COPACO, the state-run telecom company.

USAID’s Involvement in the ICT Sector in Paraguay
USAID/Paraguay first supported increased access to ICTs through the LearnLink program, implemented by AED, launching and operating the Amicas telecenter project in Asuncion in 1999-2001. More recently, USAID/Paraguay has supported increased access to the Internet through the Last Mile Initiative Paraguay project. This article provides an update of the status of the LMI Paraguay project.

Evolution of the Project & Partnerships
The initial project plans envisioned the establishment of entrepreneur-run microtelcos that would resell connectivity to individual clients within the community. Regulatory barriers, namely the fact that microtelcos could not obtain the right to resell connectivity, have led the project team to creative solutions to ensure that the project took off. Despite the regulatory challenges, the project has been actively working to set up two sites, providing Internet access to a dozen clients each in underserved areas.

Part of the strength of the project is due to the partnerships that have evolved. The project is implemented with technical support from Alexius International. The local implementing partner is Fundación Paraguaya. TIGO is the private sector telecom partner providing the connectivity to the project on commercial terms. TIGO is also considering supporting the project by providing older wireless connectivity equipment for free. In addition, the project has signed contractual agreements with two local entrepreneurs, one in each of the two pilot sites. Oportunet Paraguay is the local project brand, which also exists as Oportunet Colombia and Oportunet Guatemala, implementing similar Last Mile Initiative projects.

Expanding the Reach of the Project
Since the initial launch in November 2006, the two pilot sites, namely Coronel Oviedo and Chaco, provide seven and 12 connections respectively. The connected institutions are primarily schools and local government offices, but also include some residences. Hundreds of students and community members in each of the two locations are now using the Internet every week.

To learn more about the first two pilot sites, click on the image below to view the YouTube video.

The plan is to expand to up to 100 connections by the end of April 2007. In order to identify the next round of institutions to be connected, Fundación Paraguaya launched a nationwide context to select the recipients of Oportunet connectivity. 92 applications were received between the launch of the contest in January and the deadline for application submissions in early March. As part of the application process, potential recipients had to address key issues such as:
  • How they would continue to sustain the connection beyond the subsidized period
  • How they would use the Internet to benefit the community
  • Existing computer equipment available
  • Their capacity to build a tower in order to achieve “line-of-sight” if need be.

Of the 92 applications received, 35 were from educational institutions, 40 were from non-profit organizations, eight were from community radio stations, five were from telecenters, and four were from cooperatives.

The beneficiaries will be selected by a committee, which includes two members from Fundación Paraguaya, one member from USAID/Paraguay and one member from the State Department in Paraguay, as well as the Executive Director of a local non-profit organization with a lot of experience in social entrepreneurship. A final selection is expected at the end of March 2007.

The Approach
Connected institutions receive subsidized (free) connectivity and sign an agreement with Fundación Paraguaya to do the following:
  • Generate sustainable revenue sources to continue paying for the Internet connection beyond the subsidy period ending in 2008.
  • Make proper use of the connection to benefit the community.
  • Send personnel to training sessions to learn how to best leverage the connection.

Local entrepreneurs work with Fundación Paraguaya and offer a range of services to support the communities’ efforts to leverage the technology and connectivity they now have access to.

Moving Forward
With the initial pilots and selection process for the expansion completed, the focus of the project will shift to other important facets of the project, namely capacity building and content development. Both the beneficiaries of the connectivity and the local entrepreneurs need support to develop their skills and their ability to leverage the connectivity to benefit the community and to eventually sustain the benefits of connectivity beyond the subsidized period.

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Director, dot-ORG, Academy for Educational Development
Tel: (202) 884-8856

Related Resource Partners
Related DOT-COM Activity
Paraguay - Last Mile Initiative
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
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Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
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