Colombia’s congress has passed a controversial bill revolutionizing Colombia’s telecommunications and media infrastructure.
The flagship objectives of this deal have been modernizing internet access and speed across the country, and reforming the regulation of online content and TV broadcasts.
However, many of the proposals put forward in the deal have been met with opposition, stoking fears that they open the door to government censorship and marginalize the needs of citizens.
What’s in the deal?
One of the main policies of the package increases the commercialization of electromagnetic waves in communications technology. Previously, communications companies could buy a 10-year license to use a certain bandwidth, but the new legislation will increase this period to 20 years.
According to Juan Alberto Perez, a PhD in Computer Science and a vocal supporter of the deal, increasing licenses for private ownership of the spectrum from 10 years to 20 years would encourage companies to make greater long-term investments in 4g and 5g technology.
For Perez, investment in these technologies will be vital in ensuring adequate internet access in rural communities.
The deal also reforms content regulation across the board, replacing the current content regulator with two new bodies with a reformed structure.
Despite their overwhelming support among representatives, the regulation proposals in particular have drawn widespread condemnation over concerns that they could open the door for government censorship.
The aforementioned bodies replace an independent content regulator, the ANTV, and five members of these boards will be nominated by the government.
As if that it weren’t worrying enough that the government will have control over content regulation, these new bodies will also be charged with resource allocation for public broadcasters.
This has stoked fears that this could result in either the active censorship of content critical of the government, or self-censorship by organisations trying to avoid resource cuts or the revoking of their licenses.
Indeed, the proposed legislation is so concerning that UNESCO and the OECD came out against these proposals, yet the government ignored their concerns and pressed ahead with them regardless.
Senator for the Decency Party, Maria Pizarro, echoed these concerns, expressing her fear that “from today freedom of expression in this country is at risk”.
A path to monopolization?
The telecommunications proposals also come under fire. Pizarro also expressed concern that the deal would ” contribute to the enrichment of large media platforms and not to free and healthy competition, where local networks can develop their own networks” , which in her opinion would have produced the best deal for consumers.
The fear is that corporate domination of the sector could lead to monopolies or oligopolies, driving prices up for consumers.
In light of these concerns, opponents of the law are preparing to present the government with a list of demands to help amend the law in order to “protect the rights of citizens and the development of independent business.”