Nicaragua’s telecoms market has mirrored the country’s generally poor economic achievements, and its fixed-line teledensity and mobile penetration are also the lowest in Central America. Internet cafés provide public access to internet and email services, but these also tend to be restricted to the larger population centres. To address poor infrastructure, the World Bank has funded a project aimed at improving connectivity via a national fibre broadband network. However, recent internal unrest has blocked any kind of potential growth and the situation is uncertain.
The Internet penetration rate was 69% in 2017. The broadband market remains nascent, with population penetration below 4%. Most internet users are concentrated in the largest cities, given that rural and marginal areas lack access to the most basic telecom infrastructure.
América Móvil’s Claro has a clear lead in all of Nicaragua’s telecom sectors, including fixed-line, mobile, broadband, and pay TV. The number of mobile subscribers overtook the number of fixed lines in early 2002, and the mobile sector now accounts for most lines in service. Telefónica’s Movistar is the only company competing with Claro in the fixed-line and mobile market. The market duopoly has dampened the competitive drive between the two main players, and as a result the sector lacks quality and is hampered by high prices.
Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, has widespread underemployment and poverty. GDP growth of 4.5% in 2017 was insufficient to make a significant difference. Textiles and agriculture combined account for nearly 50% of Nicaragua’s exports. Beef, coffee, and gold are Nicaragua’s top three export commodities.
In 2013, the government granted a 50-year concession with the option for an additional 50 years to a newly formed Chinese-run company to finance and build an inter-oceanic canal and related projects, at an estimated cost of $50 billion. The canal construction has not started.
Claro was introduced in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in September 2006 as a rebranding of the former PCS Digital, Alo, Personal and Enitel. Claro is an international subsidiary of Mexico-based América Móvil and it is the leading provider of integrated telecommunications services in Latin America. Outside of China, it is the fourth largest company in terms of wireless subscribers.