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Here’s How Brazil Is Giving Every Citizen Free Mobile Data

Once considered the next great growth engine for the smartphone industry, Brazil is on the decline. With its economy shrinking and unemployment on the rise, many Brazilians are making do with dumb phones. They find the cost of an Internet-connected device prohibitive, particularly when they factor in mobile data fees.

One possible solution borrows from a technical breakthrough made by AT&T half a century ago. The Brazilian government is working with local companies and Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, on a modern version of toll-free calling. A new 1-800 system for mobile data allows Brazilians to access their bank accounts for free on smartphones without incurring data costs. The government of São Paulo plans to extend free data services to some official websites by the end of the year.

Banco Bradesco, one of the country’s biggest banks, began exploring a free data program after observing that many customers had stopped using the company’s app and were switching back to such traditional banking services as phone calls and visits to the teller. A survey of those customers found that they couldn’t afford data plans and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi during work hours, when banks are open. Bradesco teamed up with technology giant Qualcomm, and together they spent a year negotiating with Brazil’s four main phone-service providers. The bank purchased data packages wholesale and started rolling out the program in 2014. Bradesco customers can check account balances, transfer money, and pay bills without buying a data plan. “The response was excellent,” says Mauricio Minas, a vice president at the bank. More...

08-18-2015 16:28