- daniel brown
- BBC World, Caracas
Watching a video without having to wait for it to load is a luxury few have in Venezuela.
Although it is possible to buy a fast connection for several thousand bolívares, the majority of Venezuelans – who pay several hundred – consume the internet that recent studies have described as one of the slowest in the world.
Indeed, a study by Cepal reduces 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 average speed is 1.7 megabits per second (mbps), below Bolivia, with 1.8 mbps, and Paraguay, with 3.5 mbps.
The average connection in the region is 5mbps and the world average is 20mbps.
«Watching a movie, making a video conference or broadcasting a live event are technologies that most Venezuelans simply don’t know about,» Luis Carlos Díaz, an expert on the subject at the Gumilla research center, told BBC Mundo.
Wi-Fi for everyone
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 Infocenters throughout the country with internet access and delivered more than 2 million tablets, known as Canaimitas.
Around 44 out of every 100 Venezuelans have internet access, according to official figures, a penetration below the average for the region, which is 54%, according to the IWS.
Recently, the government launched an ambitious project called «Wifi for all» 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 -Bolívar, El Venezolano and Diego Ibarra squares- corroborated a comment made by many: the network still does not fully work.
«I’ve been trying to enter the ‘GOBIERNO BOLIVARIANO’ network for 15 minutes and nothing comes in,» said a young man in Plaza Bolívar, while another -identified with a public employee card- said: «Sometimes it comes in but more often that doesn’t work.»
«lack of investment»
Several telecommunications experts assured BBC Mundo that the cause of the slow 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 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 connected, the internet is so slow,» he says.
Simón Bolívar University computer professor Ricardo González expands on this analogy about data networks and roads: «Venezuela has very good highways between cities, but the internal highways of each city are a disaster, with very few roads and the that there are full of holes».
And he adds: «Additionally, the internal roads of each urbanization, if any, are almost all dirt», referring, again, to the 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 we are, together with Cuba, the country with the worst connection,» Iria Puyosa, a Venezuelan researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told BBC Mundo.
Neither public nor private
But for the past year, internet providers have faced an additional problem: a lack of dollars.
«As in all industries in Venezuela, telecommunications have not obtained the dollars from the State to import spare parts and new technologies, so their systems and products have deteriorated,» says Díaz.
Although there are several providers in Venezuela, the state-owned Cantv has 60% of the internet market.
And, according to Díaz, «the company has suffered the same inefficiency as other government companies.»
However, the company says that «since its nationalization in 2007, Cantv has not only been in charge of vindicating the people’s right to have telephone and internet services, but has also diversified its services with a range of products.»
Meanwhile, the private companies in the market do not seem to be providing a satisfactory service either: «Users receive 60% of what they are promised by the contract,» says Puyosa, citing a study by the NetIndex measurement company.
paying if there is
But while most Venezuelans receive internet of less than 2 mbps for prices comparable to the rest of the region, some can afford to buy a connection of up to 50 mbps at high costs.
Several wireless internet service providers have managed to figure out how to sell 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 rate used), depending on the plan and the cost of installation.
«We combine fiber optic, telephone and microwave technologies so as not to have to depend on just one and to be able to guarantee a service premium», The director of the company with no more than 20 employees, Gabriel Salas, tells BBC Mundo.
And when asked if he has benefited because the Internet is so slow, he answers in the affirmative: «We are developing a product and a service that people are willing to pay for.»
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.»