Subtel defends lack of rural coverage requirements in 5G tender

21 Aug 2020

Chile’s Undersecretary of Telecommunications Pamela Gidi has responded to criticism from consumer rights activists Conadecus for not including in the tender documents for 5G spectrum an obligation for licensees to provide coverage in rural areas. Diario Financiero quotes the official as saying that ‘5G is not a tool for closing the digital divide and the big problem is the fixed internet.’ The consumer advocate organisation claimed that the Department of Telecommunications (Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones, Subtel) had missed an opportunity as the upcoming 5G spectrum auction will feature a block of 700MHz spectrum, which is well-suited to providing services in rural and remote areas. Elaborating on the decision to exclude such requirements from the auction, the Undersecretary argued that fibre rather than mobile infrastructure would be required to narrow the digital divide. The official noted that whilst 54% of Chileans have a fixed broadband connection, only a quarter of those are fibre. Ms Gidi went on to explain that there are currently issues with both the supply and demand sides of the equation, with people able to afford fibre connectivity in areas that are not covered and people in areas with fibre coverage that cannot afford the service. To address these issues, Subtel is looking to regulatory changes in the form of a universal service bill and a possible subsidy.

Movistar threw its weight behind Subtel’s decision, with Director of Strategy, Regulation and Corporate Affairs Fernando Saiz quoted as saying: ‘5G is not a panacea, it is a super important technology for industrial uses, automating processes and applications such as IoT. It is useful for companies and entrepreneurs but not so much for people.’