Although Bolivia has enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, GDP remains among the lowest in South America. Many areas of the country outside the main cities are poor and undeveloped, and there is a sizeable proportion of the population which live in remote valleys and areas where telecom infrastructure has been chronically neglected. As a result, the penetration of telecom services is low..
The Internet penetration rate was over 67% at the end of 2017. All three mobile companies operating in the country offer 3G services. Due to the poor quality, high cost, and unavailability of DSL, 3G has become an attractive alternative in Bolivia while the take-up of services based on LTE has risen steadily as network builds have been increased since Tigo launched the first LTE services in mid-2014.
The structure of Bolivia’s fixed telecom market is different from most other countries. Bolivia has a multi-carrier system wherein consumers can choose a long-distance carrier for each call by dialling the carrier’s prefix. A number of operators have also adopted fixed-wireless technologies, and some rent fibre-optic capacity. Local services are primarily provided by 15 telecom cooperatives. Since the market was liberalised the cooperatives have also provided long-distance telephony, while several also offer broadband and pay TV services.
Bolivia is a resource rich country with strong growth attributed to captive markets for natural gas exports – to Brazil and Argentina. However, the country remains one of the least developed countries in Latin America because of state-oriented policies that deter investment.
A lack of foreign investment in the key sectors of mining and hydrocarbons, along with conflict among social groups, pose challenges for the Bolivian economy. In 2015, the Government expanded efforts to court international investment and boost Bolivia’s energy production capacity, passing an investment law and promising not to nationalize additional industries in an effort to improve the investment climate. In early 2016, the Government of Bolivia approved the 2016-2020 National Economic and Social Development Plan aimed at maintaining growth of 5% and reducing poverty.
State-owned Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel) is the country’s incumbent long-distance operator, also offering local telephony, DSL and satellite pay TV services. Its subsidiary Entel Movil is Bolivia’s largest mobile network provider. Since it was renationalised in 2007, Entel has focused on providing telecom services in rural areas under a project known as ‘Territory with Total Coverage’. This project aims to increase telecom coverage through mobile rather than through fixed networks.