By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Plano Nacional de Banda Larga (PNBL), the National Broadband Plan, was launched a year ago to provide millions of people in cities throughout Brazil with a 1Mb internet connection for a monthly fee of R$35 (around US$17). A year later, reports indicate just 1.2 million Brazilians in 2,300 towns and cities have had the PNBL broadband installed in their homes.
The overall goal was to get forty million households online, with at least a 1Mb connection, by 2014. However, as O Globo reports, Brazil’s national statistics agency, the IBGE, says that the figure today is only 22.4 million.
Critics of the project say it could have been far more ambitious, estimating three times as many people could have been connected by now.
Mobile internet, free Wi-Fi hotspots, widely-available Lan houses (Internet cafés) and the general lack of personal computers, present in only forty percent of homes, have all played a role in slow PNBL adoption. Many Brazilians also take advantage of connections at work, colleges and schools, lessening the need for a home connection.
Telebras president Caio Bonilha said that the government’s digital inclusion plan, signed in 2011, got off to a slow start after initial resistance from internet providers, only gaining momentum later in 2012. He says providers were not keen on promoting or helping the service, as the PNBL price was far lower than their own.
However, the low price has still failed to lure most Brazilians; some say PNBL speeds are too low for a nation renowned for its love of downloading. Faster connections come at a price of course, with broadband packages regularly in excess of R$100, and some have failed to deliver consistent speeds.
The Ministry of Communications and Telebras, Brazil’s national telecoms company, are looking at ways to improve demand in 2013. Top of the list, according to the ministry’s Department of Broadband, is a faster, 2Mb connection, which would be available for around the same price as the original 1Mb connection.
The network is also set to be rolled out to more cities, particularly those in the northeast, as the sheer cost of getting broadband to more remote, rural communities has been prohibitively high for many private companies.
High costs for individual connections have driven some communities to set up and share broadband among residents, and in fact, some broadband connections are illegally tapped into, in a similar way to informal “gato” electricity supplies, to avoid being charged.
Business consultant Tom Reaoch, who has lived in Brazil for over forty years and presents the weekly Talk 2 Brazil radio show, says that businesses setting up in Brazil for the first time quite often take for granted that high-quality fast internet connections will be available in all locations.
“The biggest problem with internet in Brazil is the quality: even if providers have promised a certain speed, it often hasn’t been delivered,” he told The Rio Times, referencing the Anatel investigation that led to new rules governing connection speeds.