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VP Harris’s call leads to Millicom investing $700m in central America

Kamala Harris VP.jpg

An intervention by US vice president Kamala Harris had led to Millicom’s decision to invest US$700 million improving its mobile and broadband networks in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The money, to be spent over the next two years, will see Luxembourg-registered, Swedish-owned Millicom work to improve connectivity in the three Latin American countries, where penetration rates for broadband are well below regional averages.

Millicom itself acknowledged the role of Harris (pictured: Stanford University) in the decision. Karim Lesina, executive VP of the company, said that Millicom, which trades under the Tigo brand “proudly announces that it has responded US Vice President Kamala Harris’s call to action”.

It has taken some time. Harris first called for the investment more than a year ago, in May 2021, but she has now announced Millicom’s investment alongside others in the region. Most of them are outside the tech and telecoms sector, but among her announcements was a pledge by Coatl, a digital service firm which is building a $35 million wholesale fibre network in El Salvador.

With Harris’s urging, it will improve rural access to high-speed internet over the next five years “by expanding and operating a highly reliable rural broadband network over existing high-power electricity lines,” said the White House. “This work will allow equal access to a digital ecosystem in rural areas, enabling online education, financial inclusion, and e-services.”

The White House noted that Millicom’s “investment will advance [its] efforts to accelerate economic growth in the region via increased connectivity as penetration rates for broadband in these markets are well below regional averages”. The investments will be made in line with the Race to Zero, the UN-backed campaign aimed at promoting a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery, said the White House.

Lesina said Millicom’s investments had the backing of CEO Mauricio Ramos, who met Harris and other companies responding to her call to action.

“On average, only half the population uses a 4G data smartphone, but adoption is fast because 4G network coverage is now 80-90%,” said Lesina. “Additionally, on average, only 30-40% of households in our markets have access to reliable broadband at home, but for the last five years, there has been an average of 1 million homes built per year with fibre cable.”

The White House, which announced investment pledges of $1.9 billion including those by Millicom and Coatl, said: “Taken together, these investments are creating an ecosystem of opportunity and helping to provide hope for people in the region to build safe and prosperous lives at home.”

Harris called on the private sector to draw upon its resources and expertise to support inclusive economic growth in northern Central America.

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