The Invisible Risk of Internet Concentration

In the collective imagination, the Internet is synonymous with plurality, largely because people can freely express their opinions, and in most Western countries, there are no restrictions on the publication of content; however, the provision of the multilayer services that make up the network are in the hands of a few players, which constitutes a latent threat to the future guarantee of this plurality.

How high is the Internet concentration in Colombia?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

This week the Latin American Observatory of Regulation: Observacom, in alliance with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung FES, presented the Internet concentration indicators for Colombia, an exercise that was previously presented in Chile [1] and Argentina [2] and that aims to establish the plural number of agents involved in the provision and supply of the different levels of services offered on the network [3].

For this version of Colombia, as the responsible researcher, I was able to identify firsthand the relevance of the information collected, which undoubtedly impacts multiple social, economic and cultural aspects.

The study was elaborated in layers, i.e., each of the different variables involved in the Internet service provision processes were analyzed [4].

Fixed Internet Access

According to official figures from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies -MinTIC-, at the end of the third quarter of 2020, the total number of fixed Internet accesses reached 7.6 million, i.e. the total number of fixed Internet accesses for the year 2020 was 15.2 per 100 inhabitants.

The data show that only three Telecommunications Network and Service Providers (NRSPs) register more than 1 million accesses, while 223 NRSPs register between 100 and 1,000 accesses.

In Colombia, since 2006, the operator with the largest number of fixed users is Grupo America Movil -or Slim Group-, which originally operated under the commercial brand Telmex and later merged its own brands Comcel and Telmex to create the new brand Claro. This company doubles the number of subscribers of the second operator and concentrates approximately 39% of the fixed connections market, with a total of 3.01 million reported subscribers.

In second place is UNE-TIGO EPM Telecomunicaciones, whose shares are 49% owned by the Swedish group Millicom, while the state-owned Empresas Públicas de Medellín holds a 51% stake. The company reports a total of 1.6 million subscribers, representing approximately 21% of the market.

The third operator in the market is Movistar, belonging to the Spanish Telefónica Group, with a total of approximately 1.2 million reported subscribers, which constitutes 15% of the market.

In fourth place is the public operator ETB, belonging to the city of Bogotá, with approximately 680,000 subscribers, representing 9% of the market share.

The sum of the four main operators constitutes a concentration of 84% (CR4). The same figure for the previous year was 82%, which means that between 2019 and 2020, the concentration of fixed Internet operators in Colombia increased by two percentage points, a sustained trend during the last decade that, if it keeps its growth rate, will reach 90% before the end of the third decade of the 21st century.

The importance of the first three operators places them in a predominant situation with a CR3 of 75, i.e., accumulating 3 out of every 4 fixed access contracts.

Mobile Internet Access

According to official figures from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies MinTIC, at the end of the third quarter of 2020, the total number of mobile Internet accesses reached 30,4 million users, which represents one and a half million more users compared to the same period of the previous year. The number of mobile Internet accesses per 100 inhabitants stood at 60.3 at the end of the third quarter of 2020.

As in the case of fixed Internet, the operator with the hegemonic position in the market is Grupo América Móvil (Claro), which concentrates a total of 16.8 million users, equivalent to a 55% share of mobile access (5% more than in the same period of the previous year).

In second place in mobile connectivity emerges the Telefónica Group with its brand Movistar, with a total of 7.3 million subscribers to the mobile service, corresponding to 24% of the market (1,2% more than in 2020).

In third place is the Swedish company Millicom with its TIGO brand, which has a total of 4.4 million mobile users, equivalent to 14% of the market.

In fourth place is the operator Avantel, with a total of approximately 700 thousand subscribers, equivalent to 2% of the market in this modality.

Adding the shares of the four operators reveals a total concentration (CR4) of 96%, an additional 2% over the same period of the previous year, although it is expected that in the coming years the C4 figure may change with the purchase of the provider Novator Partner of the Avantel brand, which will now operate under the name of WOM in Colombia.

The first two operators account for most of this concentration, since they represent a CR2 of 79%.

Use of Browsers

Measuring all Internet browsing by Colombians -regardless of the technological device used-, Alphabet’s Google Chrome browser accounts for 87% of all users who browse the Internet.

Chrome is followed far behind by Safari, owned by Apple, with just 6.15%. In third place is the open source browser Firefox, with 2.8% of users, and in fourth place is Opera, a browser belonging to the Norwegian corporation of the same name, with 1.4%. As can be seen, in Colombia the global trend of concentration on the part of Google‘s browser continues.

Use of Search Engines

In the case of Internet search engines, the period between April 20, 2020 and April 20, 2021 was taken as a basis, consulting as a reference source the statistics of use compiled by the portal.

In this regard, it was found that, when measuring Internet searches performed by Colombians, regardless of the hardware technology used, Google ranks first with 97.2% of the total number of users who perform Internet searches, followed by the search engine Bing, owned by Microsoft, with 1.4%. In third place is Yahoo, owned by the U.S. company of the same name, with 1.15%.

As can be seen in this category, the concentration is almost absolute in favor of Google.

Use of social networks

The 2021 report for Colombia by We Are Social, conducted annually by Hootsuite, found that YouTube is the platform that registers the highest use with 95.7% of cases, followed closely by Facebook with 93.6%, then WhatsApp with 90.7%, Instagram with 82% and FB Messenger reports 70.4%.

This is followed by Twitter with 59.2%, Pinterest with 45.2%, Tik Tok with 41.3% and LinkedIn with 39,2%. Beyond the fact that WhatsApp is not a social network per se, it is remarkable to note that four of the five most used networks in Colombia belong to the same company.

It is important to note that this study is neither exclusive nor cumulative in the percentage figures, i.e. the same user can potentially consume several or all the platforms that are part of the study universe.

Similarly, the study found that 99.9% of users used a social network or instant messaging app, and 91.9% of users confirmed that they actively participated in social networks in the last month. In addition, the study concluded that 10 is the average number of profiles a user can have on different platforms or social networks.

Use of Instant Messaging

The study “The Role of OTT Services in Colombia”, conducted by the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC), in its 2020 version, found that 54% of Colombians use messaging services with some kind of frequency, being the population between 15 and 25 years old the one that uses them the most.

WhatsApp is the most preferred by Colombians: 96% claim to use this platform frequently.

For We Are Social, this figure would be 90.7% anyway, placing this Facebook service. Additionally, the study contracted by the CRC and conducted by YanHaas, compared the use of mobile messaging applications with the use of text messages, finding that 43% of respondents use only connected digital applications, 11% use text messages and applications simultaneously, 16% only send text messages and do not use applications.

The remaining 30% do not own a smartphone and therefore cannot download messaging applications in the first place.

The same CRC study found that 59% of respondents use the Facebook Messenger messaging app with some frequency, while 6% use Skype and 3% use Instagram.

Other platforms are used by 6% of respondents.

Considering that both Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram belong to the same conglomerate, it is possible to identify that there is a marked concentration in the use of instant messaging applications belonging to Facebook Inc.

Access to news through the Internet

According to several sources consulted for this report, in 2020, 61% of the population aged 18 to 50 in the 10 main cities of the country uses, with some frequency, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks, to access news and information content.

A 9% of this adult population consumes text messages received on cell phones with informative content.

Of the population that uses digital platforms for information, 75% use Facebook with some frequency for the consumption of news content, 70% use WhatsApp for these purposes and 57% do it through Instagram. These top three places are again occupied by the same company: Facebook INC.

This is followed by Twitter with 45%, and 23% use other platforms such as Pinterest or TikTok, among others.

It is important to note that these percentages are not exclusive but cumulative, since the same person can use several platforms to consume this type of information.

Additionally, of the 61% of the universe that uses digital platforms to access news information sources, 78% claim to use search engines frequently to find specific news content (in Colombia, the most used search engine is Google, in 97.2% of the cases).

Internet News Sources

The annual review made by the Comscore platform based on the traffic received by web news portals, presented for 2020 a ranking composed of both traditional and digital native media.

The ranking places in the first place the newspaper El Tiempo with 43.6% of reach among the analyzed public, followed by the digital newspaper Pulzo with 27.8% of reach. In third place is Publimetro with 23.1% and in fourth place is Semana magazine with 22.1%.

The fifth position is occupied by the newspaper El Espectador with 21.0%, in sixth place Las2orillas with 19.9%, in seventh place Blueradio with 19.5%, then in eighth place LaFM with 18.5%, in ninth place Infobae with 14.7% and finally in tenth place Caracol, with 14.6%.

The most powerful Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, belonging to Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo’s business group, occupies the first place in this digital ranking, reinforcing its incidence in the national news agenda.

However, digital native media occupy the second and third place ( and, respectively). In fourth and fifth place, traditional media such as Semana -of the Gilinski Group– and El Espectador of the Santo Domingo Group reappear.

The portals, and are part of the Santo Domingo Group conglomerate, with a cumulative reach of 68.4%, neither exclusive nor excluding audiences.


The analysis of the information available on eight indicators of Internet concentration in Colombia shows, as in Argentina [5] and Chile [6], that in almost all of them a few companies have a dominant position in the market or service surveyed. The most worrying cases are those that depend on international platforms, especially when it comes to Facebook or Google, where their hegemony is almost absolute, whether in search engines, social networks, browsers or news access platforms, becoming a potential threat to plurality and future guarantees of access and availability of services, something that in Europe has attracted the attention of antitrust authorities who have even taken punitive actions and that could serve as a precedent not only for the Colombian case but in Latin America in general.

Regarding Internet access provision services, a notorious dominant position in the market has been identified on the part of CLARO, a company belonging to the América Móvil group, constituting a position of potential market capture and interference, which should be subject to analysis and investigation by the competition authorities at present and in the future.

[1] Observacom’s analysis on Internet concentration in Chile

[2] Observacom analysis of Internet concentration in Argentina.

[3] Study prepared for Observacom by Gabriel Levy on Internet concentration in Colombia.

[4] Results of the study on concentration in Colombia, published by Observacom.

[5] Observacom’s analysis of Internet concentration in Argentina.

[6] Observacom analysis of Internet concentration in Chile.