Spring 2014 IBD teammates Catherine Andresen, Carlo Cubeddu, Dan Goldman, and Juhie Tamboli are examining internet use in Brazil.
Our team got lucky. We got to spend three weeks traveling around Brazil studying the industry and the culture. We spent the first week getting to know the sprawling city of São Paulo, the second gazing at dramatic scenery in Rio de Janeiro, and the third walking on the beaches in Fortaleza in the Northeast region of Brazil.
Our time in São Paulo was marked by protests, steaks, and caipirinhas. Leading up to the World Cup (starting a mere week after our departure) we’ve witnessed a palpable frustration among Brazilians. Everyone we spoke with had something to say about corruption in government and lack of preparation for the World Cup.
Getting around the city proved time consuming while we attempted to dodge protests and manage traffic given a bus driver strike. We decided the best way to deal with traffic stress was dining at a churrascaria, Brazilian steakhouse, with a caipirinha in hand and a couple of local beers. We were told to drink in the culture, right?
Immediately upon arriving in Rio, we fell in love: the dramatic hills, white sandy beaches, and beautiful people are even more stunning in person. While in Rio, we visited a favela (Brazilian shanty) called Rocinha. No guidebook told us to seek out Rochina, but our experience there was unparalleled. We met with a man who grew up in the favela that was now giving back to his community by delivering high quality internet through fiber optic cables. He told us how he taught himself the technology, began providing internet stolen from a large telecom company, then grew large enough to obtain a license to provide internet legally. His vision is to provide high quality internet to all of Rocinha then expand to other favelas in Rio.
Another highlight of our project had a very different backdrop. We shared a bottle of wine at the home of one our idols – the man who literally wrote the book “The Internet in Brazil”. We chatted about what we’ve learned and our investigation hypothesis while gazing out his window overlooking the Copacabana Beach. Between meeting industry experts like the two mentioned, we were able to see the city from above at Pão de Açúcar and at the foot of the Corcovado.
From Rio, we headed North to a coastal city called Fortaleza. We spent our first day 4-wheeling over sand-dunes and drinking from coconuts with our toes in the warm Atlantic waters.
One of the most rewarding aspects of our project entailed interviewing average Brazilians about their internet experience. During one such interview our new friend and interviewee Wellington, gave us a tour of his town. He brought us to the municipal library and church in the middle of town and introduced us to community volunteers preparing a feast for the whole town for a festival that evening. We sadly had to decline the invitation to attend, yet not before taking pictures with about half of the locals.
Our trip in country gave us a much richer understanding of a topic we’d researched from Berkeley for months. Learning from industry experts and talking to a wide mix of Brazilian internet users gave our project a depth well beyond the data. Our eagerness to truly understand the telecommunications market grew with each passing day, bringing a new meaning to our work.