(Sept. 4, 2020) On August 21, 2020, Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, issued a decree amending the country’s Information and Communication Technologies Law to declare cell phone, internet, and pay television services to be public services. (Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia (Decree of Necessity and Urgency, DNU) 690/2020, Aug. 21, 2020; Ley de Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones No. 27.078, Dec. 16, 2014.) The decree also freezes price rates for the three services until December 31, 2020.
The decree provides that the right of internet access constitutes a digital right of all individuals inherent to freedom of expression. It considers that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) not only represent a portal to access knowledge, education, information, and entertainment, but also constitute a point of reference and a fundamental pillar for economic and social development. The decree reflects the principles emphasized in a 2012 Supreme Court of Justice ruling that established that “the State must ensure the continuity, universality and accessibility of public services.”
Provisions of the Decree
Under DNU 690/2020, ICT services are considered essential and strategic public services subject to competition. The prices that service licensees set must be fair and reasonable, and subject to regulation by the enforcement authority—the Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones (Enacom) (National Communications Entity).
On the basis of Decree No. 260/20 of March 12, 2020, which extended the COVID-19 emergency in the country, the decree suspends any increase in or modification of prices for cable television, internet, fixed or mobile phone services, and satellite television services from July 31 to December 31, 2020.
The new measure is applicable to all forms of mobile phones, as well as pay TV in general and satellite TV in particular, requiring universal basic service in any of the modalities to have acceptable quality, speeds and benefits. It further provides for guidelines for the interruption of service in case of nonpayment.
Those opposing the measure, like the Argentine Chamber of Small Internet Providers (Cámara Argentina de Pequeños Proveedores de Internet, CAPPI) think that the internet should not be considered a public service, because not only does greater intervention by the government fail to ensure the intended objective of internet connectivity for all, but, in their view, such intervention will probably generate less development and penetration of broadband services. The measure will not necessarily make these services cheaper or better, according to CAPPI. In their opinion, this goal may be achieved by allowing greater competition and an active and intelligent promotion of the industry by the state through public policies to encourage investment so that the private sector may bring quality internet at competitive prices to 100% of the country’s households.
GSMA Latin America, an entity representing the interests of mobile operators and related companies, also issued a statement declaring the measures detrimental to achieving higher connectivity, because modifying pricing structures in markets with a significant proportion of dollarized inputs is regressive with regard to investment in digital infrastructure and new technologies.