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Civic groups demand free internet for all

January 27, 2013

Mexican civic organizations are to introduce a bill in Congress that would establish free internet access as a constitutional right.

The “Free Internet for Everyone” bill calls for free wireless internet networks to be established across the country in 2016, with the aim of eventually reaching 90 percent of the population.

Proponents of the bill such as DHP, Article19, Reforma Política Ya and ContingenteMx estimate this would cost around 30 billion pesos. These groups suggest that the minimum speed of the free connection should be 5 mbps (megabits per second ).

Political reforms passed last year enable citizens to introduce legislation if they collect the signatures of 0.13 percent of the electoral roll. This equates to approximately 105,000 signatures, a figure the organizers hope to meet this weekend, before presenting the bill to Congress in February.

Backers of the bill will have been buoyed by the recent news that Carlos Slim will invest more than 300 million dollars over the next three years to expand internet access across Mexico. The project will be undertaken by the Carlos Slim Foundation, with the support of the telecommunications companies in Slim’s Grupo Carso conglomerate.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), Mexico has the fifth cheapest rates for broadband access in the region and the third quickest connections. However, a lack of infrastructure, competition and investment means certain networks are saturated while other parts of the country – predominantly rural areas – remain without internet access.

Public phone booths to give way to wi-fi hotspots?

With use of public phone booths declining in Mexico, the Federal Telecommunications Commission (Cofetel) is considering replacing them with Wi-Fi hotspots.

The number of phone booths – which are frequently vandalized and have high maintaince costs – in the country has fallen by 125,000 since peaking at 850,000 in 2006. This has led Cofetel to investigate whether it would be of greater benefit to the population to remove the booths and install Wi-Fi hotspots in their place.

The idea is modeled on a similar scheme successfully implemented in Brazil, in which customers pay a small fee to use the wireless internet for a short space of time.

The modems could be installed from 2015 to 2018, Cofetel predicts, although ultimately private companies, such as Telcel, which owns 600,000 of Mexico’s 725,000 phone booths, would be responsible for the changes in each city – not local governments.

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