Casting a Wider Net in Brazil

Paulo Rebêlo
Wired News
July 2001

Efforts to connect Brazil to the 21st century continue in earnest as governments and non-governmental organizations endeavor to provide Internet access to poor and rural areas.

According to Brazilian Planning Minister Martus Tavares, the government is about to invest $400 million this year to expand Internet use in Brazil.

“The idea is to reduce the exclusion of 160 million Brazilians who are outside of the fastest growing sector in the world,” Tavares said. According to government studies, about 11.1 million of the more than 160 million Brazilians are currently online.

Despite usage figures that seem low by U.S. standards, the Brazilian government has one of the most developed Internet policies.

The government intends to cover every large city — those with populations of at least 600,000 — with Internet terminals, which will be found mainly at post offices.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s non-governmental organizations are doing their share to extend the Internet.

A non-governmental organization called Viva Rio has launched the Viva Favela portal, whose primary objective is to extend Internet use among those who can’t afford to buy a computer or even a phone line.

Net access through Viva Favela is available through a broadband connection, and people who use it can have free e-mail accounts at stations in Rocinha. The website offers services and information designed to meet the needs of the local community — including updates on leisure and entertainment, an online magazine developed by the community members and e-commerce venues.

In the services area, people can search for job offers, public contests, vacancies, legal notices for business and retirement plans. Along with the website and Net access, Viva Rio’s projects include computer classes and professional courses.

The Brazilian government is also making efforts against the digital divide. A special commission, which calls its initiative the Digital Inclusion Project, is studying suggestions from civil entities.

Among the many suggestions, the most polemic and important ones are: “provide computer and e-mail terminals to all the population;” “provide reduced telecommunications fees for digital inclusion actions;” and “launch a free and public ISP.”

The most expensive issue for the Brazilian Internet is the phone connection costs because people must pay about (U.S.) 3 cents for every four minutes of Internet use.

With the help of the non-governmental organizations, the government intends to expand Internet and e-mail use all over the country, especially among the poorest people. The government might create a free ISP that covers the whole country, including very difficult-to-reach areas such as the rain forest or the dry countryside.

Information about Brazil’s Digital Inclusion Project can be found online in Portuguese.