Brazilian IT – Pinheiro named president of federal ICT Commission

March 5, 2008

AdaDigital put out the news yesterday on the Projeto Software Livre Brasil (PSL-BR) mailing list that representative Walter Pinheiro (PT) from the state of Bahia will be the new president (story in Portuguese) of the federal Science, Technology, Communications and Informatics Commission (Comissão da Ciênça, Tecnologia, Comunicação e Informática or CCTCI). The position had formerly been held by Júlio Semeghini (PSDB-SP). Computerworld Brasil also runs the story here.

Orwellian bureaucratic nomenclature aside, this is big news for those concerned with Brazilian telecommunications and the Brazilian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Community. Pinheiro has been battling to advance a federal FOSS agenda since back in 1999, when he attended the original meeting of the group that would become the PSL in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. As described in his online bio, he has an extensive background as a telecommunications engineer and manager – qualifications that enabled him to recognize the technical and political possibilities of non-proprietary technologies early on. Since then, he has remained a staunch ally and leader of the FOSS-advocates within the congress, sponsoring numerous legislative attempts to mandate FOSS adoption and democratize Brazil’s crony-ridden telecommunications system.

The big, obvious question is, what powers does the commission wield? I’m not entirely certain on the details yet, but this recent story in the Folha de São Paulo claims they have authority over radio and television spectrum concessions. Furthermore, from the looks of this file (PDF), it appears that the CCTCI (with a numerous contributions from Pinheiro) sponsored the creation of the FUST (or Telecommunications Services Universalization Fund) way back in 1997. Finally passed in 2000, the FUST imposed a 1% tax on telecommunications revenues throughout the country in order to create a restricted fund that could only be used to pay for national-level telecom access improvement projects (e.g. getting internet access into marginalized communities). By 2004, the fund had accumulated over R$3 Billion. This Global Information Society Watch report, authored by RITS founder Carlos Alfonso, says that as of 2007 the FUST held over US$2.8 Billion.

The FUST has long represented a point of contention within the Congress. Basically, it is a political cash cow for whoever gets to determine its disbursement, a fact recognized by both FOSS advocates and proprietary IT interests. As a result, the fund remains largely untouched. While CCTCI – and by extension, Pinheiro – may not hold final authority over FUST, he may use his new position to bring the issue renewed attention and to criticize ongoing private sector attempts to use the fund to advance their own narrow interests.

If nothing else, Pinheiro will certainly utilize his new post to promote the democratization of the telecommunications sector in general. Following the original announcement, Ada posted another story from the Congressional News Service in which Pinheiro described plans to hold “the first annual National Communications Conference” later this year. While events like this happen all the time in Brasilia and should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism, Pinheiro has the connections and the vision to build something bigger.

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