David Meets Goliath on the Information Superhighway: Venezuela in the Context of the Electronic Communication Networks

Article excerpt

For Latin Americans, information is a resource and an important factor in the creation of wealth. The answers or obstacles to information and electronic communication appropriation are more of a political and socioeconomic nature than of a technical nature. In Latin American countries, the design and implementation of networking projects should be done in accordance with their economic and social needs. That is, in accordance with well-defined developmental goals. Within each country's developmental strategies, national information and technology policies have to be designed and implemented.

The author addresses three aspects related to the information and communication technologies present specifically in Venezuela and, in more general terms, in Latin America. The first aspect briefly describes Venezuela's communication technology infrastructure and usage patterns. The second aspect deals, from a critical point of view, with Venezuela's future networking plans, and finally, the third aspect addresses some political considerations linked to the information and technology problem present in this country.

Today, social scientists refer to the world economy as an interdependent and integrated economy The newly developed electronic communication and information technology, with its unlimited capability to overcome time and space, is considered as the "engine" of global socioeconomic changes. Information is treated as a critical resource at the national and international levels, and is traded in the international marketplace, in which there are buyers and sellers. Controlling and/or attaining control of information is fundamental if a country is to remain competitive in terms of international business and in providing internal, as well as international security. For the so-called underdeveloped nations, access to information and information technology is essential for strategic socioeconomic change. The adoption and utilization of information and communication technology has political and social implications as well.

This paper addresses three aspects related to information and communication technologies present in Venezuela and, in more general terms, in Latin America. The first part deals with a brief description of Venezuela's information and communication technology infrastructure and usage patterns. The second part discusses some of our future networking plans, and finally, the third part addresses critical issues linked to the information and technology problem, from a Latin American perspective.

The Technological

Infrastructure:

The Case of Venezuela

The origin of Venezuela's networking technological infrastructure goes back to the early 1980s, when the Concejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnologicas (CONICIT; in English, the Science and Technology Research National Council) had the initiative to launch its own data-transmission network as part of a project known as SAICYT (Sistema Automatizado de Informacion Cientifica y Technologica or Scientific and Technological Information Automated System). The network was based upon the X.25 protocol and offered limited services (i.e., access to international databases and online searching on Dialog) to a restricted community of scientists. By 1990 the registered user population did not exceed 50 active users (Valdez 1994).

By the end of 1991, SAICYT established its connection to the Internet through the JvNCnet (John Von Newman Computer Network) of Princeton University. By May of 1993 SAICYT was completely based upon the TCP/IP protocol. SAICYT has a hierarchical structure. It counts with three primary nodes in the cities of Caracas Barquisimeto and Puerto La Cruz, and four secondary nodes in the cities of Merida, San Antonio, Maracaibo, and Puerto Ordaz. The connection between the nodes is possible through dedicated lines at 9600 bps.

At the present time, fifteen organizations, including national universities, research centers, an oil company, some hospitals, and the National Library of Venezuela, are interconnected within the network and have access to all functions provided by the Internet and other public communication networks in the United States and Europe. …