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G20: Mexico Must Improve Its ICT

But the Big Issue Is & Always Will Be Its Relationship with the US

Mexico could do much better in its national commitment to ICT, according to our research at the Tau Institute. Possessing one of the world's major economies, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto was recently at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, where a comprehensive strategy plan was presented to all delegates.

The plan discussed job growth and several areas of reform. It did not directly address ICT, other than a mention of fledgling telco reform.

Believing as we do that economic and societal development over the long-term are a function of a commitment to a strong ICT environment, we encourage leaders in all sectors and strata of Mexican society to redouble their efforts in this area.

Yet that sentiment may seem irretrievably glib given the difficulties facing Mexico, which must be viewed through the lens of the country's difficult history and relationship with the United States.

Can't Avoid This
We avoid political discussions, but the elephant in the room is too large to avoid when it comes to discussing the US and Mexico. So here goes...

Over the course of my career, I remember Mexican Presidents Lopez Portillo, de la Madrid, Salinas de Gortari, Zedillo, the very consequential Vicente Fox, and Calderon (as well as his constitutional battle with Lopez Obrador) quite well. I know less about current leader Pena Nieto, and that is perhaps how he wants it. He seems to be a bit of a cipher to all.

But I don't recall any great moments between leaders of Mexico and the United States. The mjaor highlight probably came when Presidents Clinton and Salinas de Gortari edged toward their respective political centers to agree to NAFTA. But two decades after its ratification, NAFTA has had a very modest affect in helping the economies of the US and Mexico grow.

Meanwhile, the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs has continued. At 12 million, there are now twice as many illegal immigrants from Mexico in the US today compared to then, there are narco wars that define Mexico in the perception of many people, and there is a drug abuse situation in the United States that has hardly abated.

Mexico is struggling with legislation to increase competition within its telco sector, which is currently Dominated with a capital "D" by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. I can't imagine this will be easily accomplished. Slim seems determined to create an image for himself that makes the big, dominant American telcos seem like purveyors of free chocolate and kittens in comparison.

Talking Past One Another

The immigation debate, such as it is in the United States, presents a classic example of people talking right past one another, with no intent to engage in a serious discussion. It seems also as if Mexico's government at the highest levels has little incentive to jump into this debate; the steady flow of impoverished people into the US relieves it of responsibility for these people and augments the flow of capital into the country at the tune of more than $20 billion per year, much higher for example than the amount that tourism generates for the country.

Furthermore, Mexico remains in and of itself. Its leaders have never seemed to aspire to a leadership role within Latin America, perhaps in no small part to the country's geographical isolation from South America. Mexico is a North American nation, with its own unique history and revolution(s) from its colonial past.

The Crux
Which leads us to the chapping point between Mexico and the US - the Texas Annexation, Mexican-American War, and Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, all from the 1840s. Mxico lost more than half of its territory during that time, although to be fair, a large percentage of that was the very thinly settled territory that became California and other Western states after becoming part of the US.

Mexico has passively aggressively tried to reclaim its lost lands to the present day, and the US has passively aggressively ignored the issue. The informal push known as the Reconquista is dismissed as a fringe movement by commentators on both sides of the border, but yet the topic lurks in the shadows and while never being formally addressed by the respective nations' leaders.

President Obama's recently announced effort to make sense of illegal immigration from Mexico, only the latest of such Presidential efforts dating to the original bracero agreements between the US and Mexico in 1942.

I've seen no response from Mexico's government, which is pre-occupied at the present moment with a crisis involving murdered students, a telenova involving a house owned by the First Lady, and ongoing accusations of corruption at all governmental levels. Of course, the US government is pre-occupied by a few domestic and global issues as well. The US-Mexico relationship is not at the top of the list for either country.

How to Proceed
So how do technology companies proceed? There is already significant foreign direct investment in Mexico, more than $100 billion per year. NAFTA has improved supply chains and other corporate efficincies across the border.

And there is certainly plenty of potential for continued economic improvement, as a middle class continues to grow despite obstacles in Mexico. If the telco nut can be cracked, we would expect overall Internet access and bandwidth to improve dramatically throughout Mexico.

Mexico ranks 73rd overall in our rankings, out of 103 nations surveyed, behind Brazil and Peru, behind South Africa, and behind the Philippines, for example. It does poorly in its income tier as well, finishing 14th among 19 nations, just ahead of Argentina. In our "Goldilocks Index," which measures how hot countries' technology factors are running, Mexico runs too cold. It's on a par with Paraguay in this area.

Yet given its overall wealth, Mexico remains only a middling challenge to improve overall, despite its large population. It's on a par with Turkey in this category; not great, but achieving significant progress in Mexico's ICT infrastructure does not rank among the great challenges of the world. Places such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Nigeria offer far steeper challenges.

This is what our numbers say; they do not account for the elephant in the room. And as I write this, the non-dialogue between the two nations continues. There are efforts in the NGO space and within academia to improve the dialogue.

Our research at the Tau Institute aims to do the same, not only between Mexico and the US, but among the nations of the world. But until political leaders at the highest levels of Mexico and the United States take such a dialogue seriously, nothing of consequence can happen, in our opinion.

As always, our overall results are meant to start conversations, not offer quick solutions. We welcome the opportunity to dive into all of our numbers and develop more substantive analyses of Mexico's present and future place along the ICT continuum.

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More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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