- Daniel Pardo
- BBC Mundo, Caracas
Watching a video without having to wait for it to load is a luxury for few in Venezuela.
Although it is possible to buy a fast connection for several thousand bolivars, most Venezuelans – who pay several hundred – use the internet that recent studies have described as one of the slowest in the world.
Indeed, a study by ECLAC determined that it is the worst in Latin America.
According to the speed measurement company Ookla, the average internet speed in Venezuela is the lowest in South America.
For its part, the Internet World Stats (IWS) study ensures that the speed averages 1.7 megabits per second (mbps), below Bolivia, with 1.8mbps, and Paraguay, with 3.5mbps.
The average connection in the region is 5mbps and the world average is 20mbps.
«Watching a movie, making a videoconference or broadcasting a live event are technologies that most Venezuelans simply do not know,» Luis Carlos Díaz, an expert on the subject from the Gumilla research center, tells BBC Mundo.
«WiFi for all»
The Venezuelan government maintains that its policies have achieved the democratization and massification of the internet in the country.
The so-called Bolivarian revolution has installed just under 300 Infocentros throughout the country with internet access and delivered more than 2 million tablets, known as Canaimitas.
About 44 out of 100 Venezuelans have internet access, according to official figures, a penetration lower than the average for the region, which is 54%, according to the IWS.
Recently, the government launched an ambitious project called «Wifi for everyone» that seeks to install free wireless internet networks in more than 2,000 public spaces throughout the national territory.
However, a BBC Mundo tour of three central squares in the capital Caracas – Plazas Bolívar, El Venezolano and Diego Ibarra – corroborated a comment from many: the network still does not work at all.
«I have been trying to enter the ‘BOLIVARIAN GOVERNMENT’ network for 15 minutes and nothing is coming in,» said a young man in Plaza Bolívar, while another – identified with a public employee card – pointed out: «Sometimes it comes in but more often than not. it doesn’t work. «
«Lack of investment»
Several telecommunications experts assured BBC Mundo that the cause of the slowness of the internet in Venezuela is reduced to one thing: the lack of investment in infrastructure.
«The internet problem is like the problem of the roads: while the number of users has grown, the roads have not been expanded and we have reached a saturation point,» Díaz told BBC Mundo.
«That’s why, for example, on Sunday nights, as there are so many people online, the internet is so slow,» he says.
The computer science professor at the Simón Bolívar University Ricardo González expands this analogy on data networks and roads: «Venezuela has some very good highways between cities, but the internal highways of each city are a disaster, with very few roads and that there are are full of holes «.
And he adds: «In addition, the internal roads of each urbanization, if they are, are almost all dirt», referring, again, to data networks.
Analysts agree that the State has not made a significant investment or allowed private investment to expand the fiber optic network, which is the main structure that allows the flow of data.
«Since 2008, Venezuela has been lagging behind the rest of Latin America and today, together with Cuba, we are the country with the worst connection,» Iria Puyosa, a Venezuelan researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso), tells BBC Mundo.
Neither public nor private
But over the last year ISPs have faced an additional problem: a lack of dollars.
«As in all industries in Venezuela, telecommunications have not obtained from the State the dollars to import spare parts and new technologies, so their systems and products have deteriorated,» says Díaz.
Although there are several providers in Venezuela, state-owned Cantv has 60% of the internet market.
And, according to Díaz, «the company has suffered the same inefficiency as the other government companies.»
However, the company says that «since its nationalization in 2007, Cantv has not only been in charge of vindicating the right of the people to have telephone and internet services, but has also diversified its services with a range of products.»
Meanwhile, private companies in the market do not seem to be providing a satisfactory service either: «Users receive 60% of what the contract promises,» says Puyosa, citing a study by the NetIndex meter.
Paying yes there is
But while the majority of Venezuelans receive an internet of less than 2mbps for prices comparable to the rest of the region, some can afford to buy a connection of up to 50mbps at high costs.
Several wireless internet service providers have managed to sell a faster internet.
One of them is Ipnet, which installs networks in corporate or residential buildings for an average of 16,000 bolivars a month (about US $ 2,500 or US $ 320 depending on the official exchange used), depending on the plan and the cost of installation.
«We combine fiber optic, telephone and microwave technologies so that we do not have to depend on just one and be able to guarantee a service premium «, The director of the company of no more than 20 employees, Gabriel Salas, tells BBC Mundo.
And to the question of whether he has benefited because the internet is so slow, he answers affirmatively: «We are developing a product and a service for which people are willing to pay.»
According to Salas, his company has grown 1,000% in the last three years.
And he adds: «If I had access to dollars, I would invest in this company in a big way.»