BY ERIC SABO
The Central American nation replaced
Internet penetration in
Eduardo Jaen, who heads
"There's a broad array of companies that have decided to position themselves here and use
President Ricardo Martinelli has made "closing the digital gap" a key priority of his administration. Having established hundreds of free Internet hot spots around the country, the government will start offering discount loans to help workers buy a computer. About 21 percent of Panamanians currently have at least one computer at home, according to 2010 census data.
Martinelli's administration began offering free computers and Internet access in schools, which helped move
Even so, much of the Internet growth is driven by multinational corporations and small start-ups that move to
Roman Kogan, who runs Internet service provider PaNetma, says that his business has grown 150 percent from last year.
"You can get cheap Internet anywhere, but you can't run a business if it's slow or unreliable," says Kogan, whose company offers connection speeds up to twice as fast as Cable Onda and Cable & Wireless, Panama's two largest providers.
He blames a lack of competition for Internet costs that are higher in
"It's about 20 times more expensive to get a signal connection from
"The Internet here is quite reliable and fast enough," says Jesse Schoberg, who moved his web development company, LJ Host, from
Meanwhile, wireless networks connected by BlackBerries and iPhones allow him to keep working on remote beaches and in the mountains, he added.
"You have the perfect storm for Internet entrepreneurs who want a high quality of life," says Schoberg.
Internet penetration and computer sales are expected to climb as
The boom has caused an envious problem: too many companies are understaffed. While unemployment hovers above 9 percent in the
While Panama's Internet is up to speed now, the basic tech infrastructure needs improvement to handle more online traffic, said Mario Ernesto of Solusoft, a Panama-based company that is advising the government how to convert paper records to digital formats.
It will need to improve fast. Martinelli is investing heavily in construction to fuel growth, more companies are moving in, and hotels including the Trump Ocean Club and Hard Rock are opening their doors to tourists who want to check email.
"We are advancing," says Jean of Panama's technology agency. "The government is committed to growth."
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