BT kiosks link rural Colombians to education, health, hope

Colombia in the north-western part of South America is larger than any European country and is famed for a topography featuring the Amazonian rainforest and supporting a thrilling biodiversity. But for those living in rural areas in particular that can make traditional wired communications a huge challenge. Perhaps counterintuitively, one company that is rising to the task of connecting Colombians is BT, the British telco with roots dating back to the 1840s and today a company with a strong and growing presence across Latin America.

BT recently won a £16.2m ($23.4m) contract in Colombia to connect 591 new Vive Digital kiosks (or Kioscos Vive Digital) across remote and rural areas. The kiosks will let farmers, students, job seekers and others connect to the internet to learn and access public services at speeds of up to two megabits per second.

The £16.2 million, 30-month contract is part of Vive Digital (Live Digital), the Colombian Government’s technology programme run by MinTic, its ICT Ministry. It will see BT partner once again with a local company, INRED, to give the education and training assistance and applications, while BT provides satellite connectivity and associated services.

From 2010 Vive Digital has been at the heart of efforts to reduce poverty and create jobs and business opportunity via technology. BT has also been working with Colombia since 2004 on the scheme and its precursor, and the company says that 200,000 kiosk users benefited between 2013 and 2015.

“This is a very important social project,” says Loly Gomez, BT country manager for the Andean region. BT provides satellite, microwave and terrestrial connectivity across Colombia and the kiosks, often located in small schools, provide an important outlet.

“In reality we have focused more on satellite and now we are using technology for e-learning, training and e-medicine. The point is that those rural places have communications. There are some places that are at the beginning and are really rural places and we needed to train people to use the internet but in the day for school, in evening and even in the night are using it. We are really focused on providing additional services for all Colombians.”

BT serves 22 countries in the LatAm region and Gomez says that Colombia is a very important economy which has stabilised as the Government has got to grips with gangs and violence by restoring law and order in cities such as Medellin and Bogota where BT has laid fibre-optic links. BT’s cloud/co-location datacentre near Bogota is a rare Tier 4 elite facility (where expected availability is over 99.995 per cent) in the region and fast, resilient communications are needed for native internal and international businesses and other companies that have a big presence in Colombia like Procter & Gamble and Uniliever. One up-and-coming segment across LatAm is represented by the Multilatinas – multinationals based here and represented in Coilobia’s case by financial services firms Bancolomobia and Aval, as well as others.

“In rural places guerrillas still cause problems and companies can’t be there but security has really improved a lot,” Gomez says.

“Telecoms is very competitive here and for companies like Unilever and P&G we need to be where they need us and provide the same service as we do worldwide across 174 countries.”

That competition can make BT become odd bedfellows with rivals such as Cable & Wireless and Telefónica. “Sometimes you are customer competitor, provider and all at the same time,” Gomez says.


Related reading:

Colombia’s emerging tech hub in Medellin

Facebook for All comes to Colombia

BT Global Services CEO interview


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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