IPYS considers continued decrease in internet speed a threat to Venezuelans’ access to digital news media

Venezuelans surf the net with the lowest internet speed in South America.

This is one of the main conclusions of a recent analysis of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Venezuela, carried out with the methodology and collaboration of the internet data laboratory Measurement Lab (MLAB) and the Open Technology Institute (OTI).

In recent years, the decreasing capacity of internet browsing in Venezuela has affected many Venezuelans who seek information through digital media, in the face of self-censorship and censorship of traditional media by the government, IPYS said in its report released at the end of February.

The study "Browsing at the bare minimum: Conditions of internet quality in Venezuela" was carried out between January and February of 2018. More than 6,000 tests of internet speeds in urban, suburban and rural zones of the 23 Venezuelan states were made for the study, according to the organization.

The analysis found that the speed of internet connections in Venezuela, in terms of Fixed Broadband (BAF, for its acronym in Spanish), has decreased by 0.3 Mbps (microbits per second) in the last five years, now being 1.61 Mbps. That is, the browsing capacity of traditional connections from homes, offices, etc. has decreased.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2012 Venezuela ranked sixth in terms of internet speed in the region, IPYS highlighted.

And although, according to the analysis, browsing capacity of phones and mobile devices that are connected from the Mobile Broadband (BAM) is a bit better, it only reaches 2.3 Mbps.

According to MLAB –the laboratory associated with OTI, Google Open Source Research and Planet Lab of Princeton University– Venezuela is in last place of the ten countries that this laboratory follows with respect to browsing on the internet. The other nine countries are: Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, French Guiana, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Bolivia.

The average speed of internet browsing in Latin America, Venezuela being the exception, is 5.6 Mbps, according to data collected by the international corporation Akamai in 2017, IPYS Venezuela mentioned in its report.

According to IPYS, the decrease of the internet, the blockades of web portals and the restrictions on social network platforms by the government during periods of political and social unrest have caused the freedom of the network to be threatened.

This, the organization considered, is partly a product of the reaction of the Venezuelan government to the migration of audiences that consume news on the internet and that used to have traditional media as their main source of information.

For example, during elections in the country for governors, held on Oct.15, 2017, the conditions of navigability in the network and misinformation were some of the factors that affected the right of citizens to know matters of public interest about the electoral process, Marianela Balbi, executive director of IPYS Venezuela, told the Knight Center at the time.

Balbi explained in this context that digital platforms have become "essential windows to knowing the reality of the country," but the internet infrastructure at the national level is lacking. According to IPYS Venezuela records, when the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the triumph of the ruling party in those elections, the average internet browsing of Venezuelans was 1.38 Mbps.

Likewise, the economic crisis that is becoming increasingly acute in Venezuela has limited internet freedom, IPYS Venezuela explained in its recent report. According to IPYS, the president of the Chamber of Telecommunications Services Companies (Casetel), Ricardo Martínez, recently told the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional that the accumulated debt that the Venezuelan State had with international telecommunications providers until 2016 was approximately 700 million dollars.

In 2016, a group of 15 civil society organizations alerted national and international bodies that defend the right to information about the low internet quality in Venezuela, Runrun.es reported.

Organizations such as Espacio Público, Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University, Aula Abierta Venezuela (Open Classroom Venezuela), Commission for Human Rights and Citizenry said that the precariousness of information technologies violated human rights to information, to work, to education, among others.

"The access (connectivity) and slowness (browsing speed) are so serious in some hours that practically prevent almost any daily virtual operations,” the organizations said, according to Runrun.es.

States must recognize and promote that internet access is universal, according to UNESCO. In any democratic society, in order for the internet function to reach its full potential, there must be a "universality of the internet," according to a series of studies and analyzes that UNESCO has carried out and discussed since 2013.

Based on rights such as access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy and ethical standards, and online knowledge, UNESCO and its member states have defined a concept of internet Universality. According to this, the internet must respect human rights, be open, accessible, and be a means where plurality of voices can participate.

In May 2017, after the various social demonstrations that took place in Venezuela, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signed a decree extending the State of Exception and Economic Emergency (in force since 2016). This includes the implementation of internet censorship and control measures to avoid "destabilization campaigns," IPYS Venezuela said on its website.

In November 2017, Maduro created the "Law against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance," which attacks, among other things, traditional and digital media, the organization highlighted.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.