Peter Knight is coordinator of the e-Brasil Project, President of Telemática e Desenvolvimento Ltda., and partner of Telematics for Education and Development. Before joining the private sector, Dr Knight led the World Bank’s Electronic Media Centre, and before that was Chief of the National Economic Management Division in the Bank’s Economic Development Institute (EDI) and Lead Economist for Brazil. Dr Knight’s World Bank career spanned over 20 years, with more than eight devoted exclusively to work on Brazil. Earlier he held positions at Cornell University, the Ford Foundation, the Brookings Institution and the Centro de Treinamento para o Desenvolvimento Econômico (CENDEC). Dr Knight is a member of the Board of the Journal of E-Government. Dr Knight has published over a hundred books, monographs, chapters, and articles in various languages and has spoken at many conferences throughout the world. His latest book, e Desenvolvimento no Brasil e no mundo, Subsídios e Programa e-Brasil, was just awarded third place in the prestigious Jabouti Award competition for Brasil’s best book about economics, administration and business. Peter Knight received his PhD. and M.A. degrees in Economics from Stanford University and holds degrees in Government from Dartmouth College (US) and Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University (UK).
Brazil established its scientific and academic network (RNP) almost twenty years ago. The Federal Government maintains the RNP, which is managed by a private company. RNP’s recent Redecomep initiative has established new partnerships to expand high-speed Internet access for education purposes, digital inclusion and to promote Brazil’s competitiveness in the knowledge-based global economy. Combined with interactive digital television, the impact could be impressive, helping create a more equitable and more competitive Brazil, the two central objectives of the e-Brasil Programme.
Scientific and academic networks have long played leading roles in the development of the Internet in the United States, Europe, Russia, and elsewhere, including in Latin America, especially Brazil. In Brazil, the National Education and Research Network (Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa - RNP) was established in 1989. It is maintained by the Federal Government and managed by a private company, RNP-OS. In recent years, RNP has established new partnerships to expand high-speed Internet access. These partnerships can play a critical role in education at all levels, crucial for Brazil’s competitiveness in the knowledge-based global economy, and in Brazil’s digital inclusion programs. Combined with interactive digital television, the impact could be impressive, helping create a more equitable and more competitive Brazil, the two central objectives of the e-Brasil Programme. RNP and Redecomep RNP’s national backbone network, known as the Ipê Network, has points of presence in all Brazilian states and the Federal District (Figure 1), and provides connectivity to the principal universities and research institutions in the country. This fibre optic network is among the most advanced in the world and has connections with foreign academic networks like RedClara (Latin America), Internet 2 (United States) and Géant (Europe). The Community Education and Research Networks (Redes Comunitárias de Educação e Pesquisa - Redecomep) is an RNP initiative launched in 2004. By September 2008 the Redecomep programme had built eight metropolitan networks located in Belém (Pará State), Manaus (Amazonas State), Vitória (Espírito Santo State), Florianópolis (Santa Catarina State), Brasília (Federal District), Natal (Rio Grande do Norte State), São Paulo (São Paulo State) and Fortaleza (Ceará State), all of which are in operation. By 2009 there should be 27 networks operating in all Brazilian states and the Federal District, and there are projects to expand beyond that to São Carlos (São Paulo State), and to Niterói and Petrópolis (both in Rio de Janeiro State). Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan network, Rede Rio, should be the largest in Latin America, with about 140Gbps (Gigabits per second) of capacity and more than 200 kilometres of fibre. Some of the Redecomep networks use WiMAX wireless technologies for parts of their networks. The unit costs of a fibre optic network are much lower than those for dedicated circuits leased from commercial telecom operators, and building such networks can result in huge savings to universities, research institutes, governments and other users. The total projected government investment for the Metrobel fibre network with 30 points of presence is R$1.1 million over five years, and the maintenance and operating costs are approximately R$200,000 per year. This works out to a cost for a Gigabit connection of about R$13,000 per year, a little more than half the price of a 256kbps connection for 4000 times the bandwidth. New partnerships Two aspects of Redecomep are particularly interesting beyond the immediate objective of linking teaching and research institutions with high-speed Internet connections. First, although the Redecomep project provides funding for network investment from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) through the Financer of Studies and Projects (Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos - Finep), which reports to the MCT, it also encourages a wide variety of partnerships for the construction and financing of operating costs. These partnerships have included municipal governments, state governments, and both public and private sector enterprises. Second, among the enterprises are electric power distribution companies. Most of these - pipeline companies, railroads and other utilities - have fibre optic networks of their own, with a lot of excess capacity given the continual improvements in data transmission technologies for fibre optic cable. By establishing partnerships with such companies, Redecomep networks can greatly expand the reach of their networks at very low cost. Likewise, when Redecomep invests in its own fibre networks, it can offer excess capacity to other users, thus helping reduce current costs to its own users as well as to its partners. The first Redecomep network to enter operation, Metrobel in Belém, led to the government of Pará to extend Metrobel by an additional 50 kilometres, and to include 165 additional points of presence, mainly government buildings, schools and health facilities. Independently, the State of Pará signed an agreement with the federal government-owned electrical utility company, Centrais Elétricas do Norte do Brasil (Eletronorte) that will allow the use of 1,800 km of the company’s fibre to expand Metrobel into the interior, reaching ten Federal University of Pará locations throughout the state. Furthermore, the State of Pará inaugurated its first digital city in Marituba. The Marituba network connects 34 hospitals, schools, police stations and NGOs; it also offers free WiFi Internet access in the town’s central square. Many more digital cities are planned; they will also use the fibre networks as a backbone and use WiMAX and WiFi wireless technologies, as shown in. Figure 2, for last mile access. Similar partnerships, in this case promoted directly by Redecomep, are moving forward with electric power distribution companies in the Rede e Neoenergia groups, helping establish Redecomep networks in Salvador (Bahia State), Recife (Pernambuco State), Palmas (Tocantins State), and Campo Grande (Mato Grosso do Sul State). Also of interest is an agreement worked out between the state ICT company of Ceará State (ETICE), CHESF (the region’s electrical energy utility), and COELCE (the state’s electric power company) to share CHESF transmission towers. The agreement allows ETICE to extend 200km of fibre using CHESF’s towers. COELCE will provide excess capacity in its 2,400km of fibre cables for part of the Digital Belt project that the company is creating to connect government offices around the state and reach some 85 per cent of the state’s population by 2010. Eletronet - a strategic partner Eletronet has a large fibre optic network that provides reliable long-distance lines linked directly to Brazil’s power grid. Eletronet was owned 51 per cent by AES, a US-based multi-national, and 49 per cent by Lightpar a subsidiary of Eletrobrás, the state holding company for energy distribution, and the largest energy firm in Latin America. Eletronet has some 16,000km of high capacity fibre (Figure 3) almost all hung on the Eletrobrás high-tension power network. The fibre cables to the north of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais State use CEMIG’s towers, but the Eletrobras companies, CHESF, Eletronorte, Furnas, and Eletrosul own the fibres and has ceded four of them to whatever electric company provides the infrastructure, federal (CHESF, Eletronorte, Furnas, and Eletrosul) and state (CEMIG). There is even a 100km segment linking Minas Gerais and Bahia that was constructed by Eletronet itself. This network, called by one of its designers “a telecommunications enigma”, can reach 80 per cent of Brazil’s population; it links 17 states and the Federal District, together responsible for 89 per cent of Brazil’s GDP, and has points of presence in the principal points where submarine cables reach the Brazilian coast. Eletronet, however, has been in a legal limbo of bankruptcy proceedings since 2003. Its majority shareholder, the U.S.-based multi-national AES, defaulted on a loan from the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social - BNDES). The principal creditors are Furukawa, Alcatel-Lucent. (they provided supplier’s credits for its construction) and the Eletrobrás companies that allowed the fibre to be installed on their transmission lines. Redecomep’s relationships with power companies could expand greatly if the status of Eletronet were resolved and partnerships established with this 16,000km network of high-capacity fibre. RNP officials have envisioned that possibility since 2006. Overcoming the legal obstacles is a question of political will. One of the designers of Eletronet has outlined options for a win-win solution for the Federal Government, private sector telecommunications companies, Eletronet’s creditors, and more broadly, Brazil’s socio-economic development. She proposed transforming Eletronet into a new enterprise to meet the data transport needs of underserved communities, protect strategic regions, reach less-developed regions, improve the security of states and municipalities, serve national public agencies and increase the availability of communications in already developed areas. The solution would be negotiated with private sector telecommunications operators to create a National Digital Integration Network. She offered several possible organizational formats: state enterprise with its network available to private telecommunications providers (her preferred option), a traditional state enterprise, and a private enterprise. She also proposed updating the network through a sequence of measures outlined below. • The Ministry of Communications would lead the process, coordinating with all other government agencies and the private sector • Resolve Eletronet’s debt with suppliers • Transform Eletronet into an enterprise with social objectives • Formulation and approval by Anatel (the regulatory agency for Telecommunications) of policies to be followed by the enterprise to achieve social objectives • Make Eletronet’s network available for use by private telecommunications companies and others • Establish partnerships with private sector companies; federal, state and municipal governments and Petrobrás (Brazil’s petroleum multi-national) for sharing and national integration of its network • Promote investment to expand the capillarity of the network where sharing, private sector partnership, agreements with government agencies and Petrobrás cannot be worked out Eletronet’s history reads something like a Brazilian telenovela - new chapters are written in reaction to current events and audience response to the development of the plot and the principal characters. In a telenovela, the authors, actors, and the broadcasting companies collaborate in a complex interaction for their mutual benefit. Brazil’s television broadcasters, private and public, may have an important stake in the evolution of the Eletronet drama, since the viability of two-way interactive television, with its huge potentials for education, government service delivery, and electronic commerce depend on having a cheap or free return channel, ideally the Internet. New partnerships involving the Redecomep and Eletronet and the growing movement to make medium-band wireless Internet connectivity a right of Brazilian citizens (digital states and municipalities) could help make this return channel available.