Cablegate: Ambassador Gross Launches New Era in Bilateral


DE RUEHBO #3583/01 2681504
R 241504Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. As part of a broader effort to expand
economic relations with Colombia and complement the pending
U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (reftel), Ambassador
David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International
Communications and Information Policy, launched a new
bilateral dialogue on telecommunications and information
technology with Communications Minister Maria del Rosario
Guerra on September 18. In addition to the government talks,
which covered bilateral and multilateral issues for
coordination and resulted in agreement to share best
practices on spectrum allocation, Ambassador Gross met with
private industry to discuss investment climate issues and
presided over the launch of the USAID-supported Last Mile
Initiative connectivity project in Santa Marta. Local press
positively covered both the conclusion of the bilateral talks
and Ambassador Gross's trip to Santa Marta. END SUMMARY.

Promoting Telecom Investment

2. (SBU) Kicking off his three-day visit, Ambassador Gross
met with U.S. telecommunications and information technology
companies to obtain their views on Colombia's market
potential and challenges. Representatives of Unisys, Cisco,
Hewlett-Packard, 3M, DirectTV, Avantel, and Alcatel-Lucent
told Ambassador Gross that Colombia's telecom and information
technology markets offered great potential in light of the
improving security situation and strong economic policies of
the Uribe Administration. Several companies specified that
they expected the broadband market to grow rapidly and
provide numerous investment and export opportunities for U.S.

3. (SBU) However, the companies also identified significant
challenges including a trend toward government institutions
ignoring international arbitration decisions, the absence of
Colombia as a party to WTO agreements on government
procurement, and increasing competition from inexpensive
Chinese equipment. Company representatives encouraged closer
USG collaboration with industry on providing technology
training opportunities for Colombian officials in order to
better promote U.S. technology to compete with Chinese and
other competitors.

Telecom Dialogue: Mechanism for Closer Cooperation
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) Ambassador Gross, accompanied by the Charge d'
Affaires, Senior Advisor Timothy Finton, Federal
Communications Commission Deputy Director for International
Affairs John Giusti, Commercial Counselor Margaret
Hanson-Muse, and Deputy Economic Counselor William Popp,
launched the new bilateral dialogue on telecommunications and
information technology with Communications Minister Maria del
Rosario Guerra on September 18. Minister Guerra, accompanied
by Vice Minister Daniel Medina, Communications Regulatory
Commission (CRT) Director Cristhian Lizcano, and senior
staff, presented the GOC's strategy to lower telecom costs,
increase access, and promote investment. Minister Guerra
highlighted the industry's rapid growth in Colombia (double
the GDP growth rate), regulatory changes to promote
technology investment (including elimination of the
value-added tax on computer technology), and new
"e-government" initiatives to increase public access to
information, government services, procurement solicitations,

5. (SBU) Ambassador Gross outlined USG experiences with
spectrum allocation, government policies to promote
interconnection and steps to increase public access to
information technology, including broadband deployment. On
spectrum policy, FCC representative Giusti agreed to the
Colombian request to provide FCC views on the technical
portion of the spectrum allocation handbook under development
as well as to exchange information on other areas of spectrum
and communications policy. Ambassador Gross also briefed the
Colombian delegation on USG efforts to promote Internet
Freedom while protecting the rights of all users, including
protecting children from objectionable material.

6. (SBU) Shifting to multilateral issues, Ambassador Gross
presented U.S. views on restructuring of the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU), commending its positive role
fostering telecommunications adoption around the world but
noting that the USG would welcome a return to a more
bottom-up approach to the institution as well as a
reevaluation of the ITU's appropriate role in standardization
and satellite issues. As for the future of the OAS regional
telecom council, CITEL, Ambassador Gross and Minister Guerra
agreed that it was important to maintain a forum for American
countries to address telecom and information technology
issues together. With regard to the International
Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO), Ambassador
Gross requested that the GOC support USG proposals at the
forthcoming Assembly of Parties to improve transparency, good
governance, and confidence-building within the organization,
including through the selection of an accountable new
Director General. Minister Guerra agreed and said she also
hoped the U.S. and Colombia could continue to coordinate
closely within the International Mobile Satellite
Organization (IMSO). (NOTE: Ministry of Communications
International Affairs Advisor Joaquin Restrepo told Econoff
September 22 that the GOC supported the IMSO amendments
proposed by the U.S. but that it was unlikely that Colombia
would be able to send a delegation to the next assembly
meeting. END NOTE.)

7. (SBU) Minister Guerra and Ambassador Gross concluded the
dialogue with a roundtable attended by Colombian
telecommunications associations and a representative of the
U.S.-based Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).
Representatives of the call centers association, software
industry, mobile phone industry and small business technology
association all emphasized the strong growth outlook for
Colombia's communications industry. They identified the need
for more foreign capital and investment as the most important
factor in expanding the sector. Ambassador Gross recounted
steps taken in the U.S. to encourage investment, reduce
costs, and efficiently allocate spectrum without hurting
existing users. The industry representatives welcomed the
U.S.-Colombia Bilateral Telecommunications Policy Dialogue as
a valuable mechanism for promoting coordination and
investment. Ambassador Gross and Minister Guerra agreed that
the bilateral governmental talks and the discussions with
industry were valuable and should continue on an annual basis
to be hosted next in Washington in 2009.

Fostering Internet for All Colombians

8. (U) Following the dialogue, Ambassador Gross visited the
north coast town of Santa Marta September 19 to help
inaugurate the Last Mile Initiative, a public-private
partnership between USAID, U.S. companies (Avantel, Intel,
Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Polyvision, and Exxon-Mobil), the
Ministry of Communications and Santa Marta local government.
Together with Minister Guerra, company representatives, and
Santa Marta Mayor Juan Pablo Diaz Granados, Ambassador Gross
launched free wireless internet connectivity in the city's
central historic district as well as high-speed connectivity
of the city's justice house to facilitate faster access to
legal services for the community and training in conflict
resolution for 4,000 community leaders. With equipment
purchased by USAID and donated by U.S. company partners, the
Last Mile Initiative will eventually connect 325,000
individuals and institutions including schools, hospitals,
justice houses and local government offices in 50
municipalities in Colombia.

Positive Press Coverage

9. (U) Over 20 local journalists covered Ambassador Gross and
Minister Guerra's press conference concluding the telecom
talks. Leading print outlets El Tiempo (Colombia's largest
and most influential daily, centrist, circ. 1.2 million), La
Republica (business daily, Conservative party-oriented, circ.
32,000), and Dinero (financial weekly magazine, circ.
250,000) published coverage of the talks, highlighting the
dialogue as a new, annual mechanism for promoting sector

development and coordinating positions for multilateral fora.
Evening television news program "Telepais" also carried
coverage of the talks and focused on opportunities for the
U.S. and Colombia to share experiences on spectrum allocation
and satellite industry development. Several local press
outlets in Santa Marta also carried stories of Ambassador
Gross' inauguration of the Last Mile Initiative.

10. (U) Ambassador Gross and FCC Deputy Director Giusti
cleared this cable.

© Scoop Media

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