COVID-19 on Telecommunications

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shared today an insightful article for the telecommunications industry in all its social, economic and political dimensions.

Their findings on the impact of the global-scale social distancing (due to COVID-19) on our telecommunications networks trigger important public policy debates on topics such as net neutrality, spectrum management and question regarding the maintenance of the old voice technology.

I believe this is a good starting point to reflect on the importance of creating a user-level culture for managing technological resources intelligently. Can you imagine this global-scale social distancing without internet connectivity?

Summary of key points:

  • During the global COVID-19 crisis, telecoms connectivity is vital to keeping the economy going and keeping society intact.
  • Customers/users will be more reliant on Internet access during quarantine, and at the same time will be experiencing economic difficulties.
  • Telecoms networks are showing effects of the stress caused by the traffic increase in both data and voice.
  • Despite the popularity of messaging apps, voice has seen a resurgence.
  • Network disruptions have been reported across Europe.
  • Concerns over broadband network overload has made EU Commissioner issue a call for streaming channels to limit their services to standard definition only and users to be more responsible about their data consumption.
  • The US’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been using Special Temporary Authority powers to grant temporary additional spectrum to some operators in order to help meet increased consumer demand for mobile broadband.

For the full article, please access: Telecoms, Coronavirus and keeping the networks running.

Source: ITUNews, https://news.itu.int/

2019 Economic Outlook Brazil: Infrastructure and Reforms

On February 4th, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivered the yearly Message to National Congress, in its opening ceremony for the 2019 legislative year. This article is based solely on the official document, which is divided in five main chapters: Economy, Infrastructure, Society, Strategic Issues, and Public Administration. It covers highlights related to macroeconomic reforms and infrastructure. And a second post containing highlights related to Strategic Issues and Foreign Policy will follow.

Economic Overview

  • The country ended 2018 with a deficit of USD 14 bi for 12 months (0,7% of GDP).
  • Exports were impacted by the economic crisis in Argentina. However, soy exports to China increased in the second semester due to restrictions derived from US-China trade tensions.
  • The report states that the country faces low external vulnerability as a result of its international reserve volume (USD 380 bi) and the flow of its direct foreign investment.
  • Labour market still experiences high rates of unemployment, but shows slow recovery.
  • Macroeconomic reforms are proposed for social security, fiscal system, public administration, foreign trade liberalization, privatization, and the autonomy of Central Bank.

Fiscal Reform

Brasil faces two major problems in its fiscal system. First is the high tax rates, which can reach 33% of GDP. This is above the other emerging economies and other Latin American countries, which average 20% of GDP). Secondly, its tax system is highly complex. This demands high resources from both private and public sectors, and generates high levels of litigation disputes due to uncertainties. Current fiscal reform proposals are limited to measures that seek to simplify enforcement, reduce tax cost liability and reduce the cumulative effects of some federal taxes. The message also states the continuity of the New Fiscal Regime (or, NRF – Novo Regime Fiscal), introduced by the Constitutional Amendment No. 95, of December 15, 2016, which is relevant for the fiscal rebalancing of the Federal Government. This regime, also called the “spending ceiling” (teto de gastos), established a limit for federal primary expenditure.

Social Security Reform

Payment of Social Security benefits has been the main factor responsible for the increase in total public spending in the last 20 years. In addition, the growth of pension transfers tends to accelerate due to the rapid demographic transition that the country is experiencing. The fertility rate fell considerably between 1980 and 2015, from 4.1 to 1.7 children per woman, which implies lower population growth in the future.

Infrastructure

One of the main problems is the lack of intermodal infrastructure allowing for connections between the national network of seaports to other modes of transportation (road, rail and river). It is necessary to reduce costs by improving port efficiency, which implies integration with the railway and road networks, linking the main regions of the country. It is also imperative to reduce costs and deadlines for boarding and disembarking. The goal is to reach performance levels of ports in countries such as South Korea (Busan port), Japan (Yokohama port) and Taiwan (Kaohsiung port).

The Government plans to launch dredging and land infrastructure projects, as well as completing other projects that will increase its seaport infrastructure capacity by 11.25 million tons /year, 4.11 million tons m³ /year, 250 thousand TEU /year, 13 thousand passengers /year and 50 thousand vehicles /year. The immediate goal is to auction ten port terminals in order to expand current capacity.

In 2018, a bidding announcement was issued for the 30-year concession of 12 airports in the Northeast, Southeast and Mid-Western regions. For the next years, it is projected the continuity of the airport concessions through the release of other bidding blocks.

Its road network, has not received the volume of investments needed for keeping up with the economic activity. Recent surveys indicate that only 38% of the segments are classified as being of good or better conditions. The government estimates USD 7,08 bi in investments for the next 5 planned concessions, which will comprise around 5,000 km of highways.

Source: Mensagem ao Congresso Nacional 2019

Recently created government fund for secured infrastructure projects in Brazil

The other day a foreign investor who was looking into potential infrastructure projects in Brazil asked me whether the Brazilian Government makes use of Sovereign Guarantees, Bank Guarantees and/or SBLC’s to attract and secure foreign investors (ment).

At least for infrastructure, I believe the most suitable instrument would be the Brazilian Law 12.712/2012, Art. 32, which establishes the Infrastructure Guarantee Fund (or FGIE, Fundo Garantidor de Infraetsrutura).

This fund is managed by the Brazilian Guarantee Agency (or ABGF, Agência Brasileira Gestora de Fundos Garantidores e Garantias S.A.) and is operated through guidelines which regulate the direct guarantee awards (Regulamento de Operações para Outorga de Garantia Direta Pelo Fundo Garantidor de Infraestrutura), meant to offer risk coverage for noncompliance of pecuniary obligations assumed by the public partner in Public-Private Partnerships.

As of its latest report made publicly available (December 31st, 2017), this fund comprised the value of R$ 568.560.446,00 in total net assets (approx. USD 156.043.574,93 today; not very large due to its recent establishment), and applicable to specific concession operations including the following:

I – Major infrastructure projects included in the Growth Acceleration Program (or PAC, Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento) or strategic programs defined by the Executive Branch;

II – Projects resulting from Public-Private Partnerships in the form of Law 11.079/2004.

However, the exact answer to this question depends heavily on the sort of infrastructure project, value and nature of partnership sought in the country, amongst other specifics.