Telecommunications: Hegemonic Landscapes for Resistance

global media hegemoniesWhen looking at new media communication, it is clear that across class, race, and gender, the digital divide is still apparent. Yet everyday youth are working to bridge these gaps by seizing the means of communication, and creating alternative networks, brainstorming new functions that CEOs had never dreamed possible. Yet as innovations in Citizen Media continue to rise, many gaps still exist blocking people from self-expression and access to the digital commons. While it is obvious that both Costa Rican and Panamanian youth are using new technologies such as Social Networks and Mobile Communication, when one compares the two countries there is an obvious gap in access.

While Costa Ricans have a nationalized telecommunications network, ICE (The Costa Rican Institute of Electricity), Panamanians have to rely on private networks in order to participate in the digital commons. According to MobileActive.org’s section of International Mobile Data (See charts below), Costa Rica has way higher access to the Internet, and but Mobile phone use is higher in Panama. This data draws out the realities of the countries economic structure, with Panama having a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and Costa Rica having a more middle class economy.

The average Costa Rican cellular phone plan is $4.20, while the average Panamanian is $18.10. The Internet is on average $10 more expensive for Panamanians than Costa Ricans, even though the level of poverty in Panama is over 5% higher. While Internet use in Panama is popular in urban context, the majority of the country remains without access. While mobile phone subscriptions in Panama are at a rate of 28%, Costa Ricans are only at 22%. Yet in Costa Rica personal computer rates remain at 22%, with Internet use at 29%. In contrast, Panamanians have a personal computer rate of 0.4%, and an Internet use rate of 0.78%.

Costa RicaPanama

This data challenges us to look at the deeper structures to national media hegemonies. Costa Rica’s public electricity corporation ICE was created in 1949 as a part of a larger movement for national sovereignty, as well as a means to protect against the harmful effects of hydro electric energy. In the year 1963 ICE went into telecommunications. ICE boasts a 97% coverage rate for electricity, and a telephone network that covers 95% of the population, most of the connections home lines. ICE has a mission for the environment and to create access to marginalized populations.

The contrast for the telecommunications industry in Panama, a free market monopoly which is run by two main companies, Cable and Wireless, and MoviStar. Much like the Canadian situation of telecommunications, the lack of competition between companies motivated by a for-profit mandate drives prices up. The Internet, and computers in general are unaffordable for a country that has a 7.2% poverty rate.

With these statistics in mind it is important to postulate what are the implications of new media technology in constructing a functioning democracy:

  1. * How does access to digital networks on computers, and cell phones allow people to act as citizens, creating community media that is instantly shared across the world?

  2. * How can governments work towards providing their citizens with access to these new forms of citizen media?

  3. * How can youth utilize these technologies to gain agency in society and participate in activism and advocacy?

These questions will serve well for further study of this topic, as academics work on creating measures. For this research to happen there must be collaboration between both public and private domains, as telecommunications companies can benefit from this data as much as social activists can. On June 4th, 2008 Costa Rican President Oscar Arias passed new legislation in accordance to Central American Free Trade Agreement, making it legal for private companies to offer cellular phone and Internet services. This signifies a breaking of ICE, as corporations can use Wal-mart style tactics to drive out the state competition, and then raise prices once a monopoly is established. It is imperative in this time of change to examine the periphery effects affecting access to Citizen Media.