Peru Travel Teachings No 2: El acceso a Internet es un privilegio

9 11 2009

In Santa Teresa, on an alternative route to Machu Picchu, my friend Mark and I stopped for the night before heading to the famous Inca citadel the next morning. Mark became thoroughly aggravated when we couldn’t access the Internet, despite the fact that there was a Cabina de Internet in the small town.

Well at least “Cabina de Internet” was how this burnt-out room full of PC’s had been advertised. When we finally got to a computer, it was unable to access our Hotmail accounts, let alone any web page at all. The guy in charge of the place was reluctant to give us another computer to try, given that all of his friends were busy trying to play World of Warcraft, Max Payne and other such games on the available machines. (On reflection, we realised that this was probably the reason the connection was so slow.)

As Mark stormed away in a rager, understandably ruffled by the guy’s lack of concern for his communication with home, I realised that I had become accustomed to public internet access here being totally shoddy and unreliable in the current absence of my own annoyance.

Internet connections in this part of South America are, for the most part, sporadic. The vast majority of people in Bolivia and Peru can get access through one of the many Cabinas de Internet; which usually come in the form of street-side stores that are full of PCs with a connection. For Cabinas de Internet per capita, Peru is one of the leading countries in the world.

Like the one in Santa Teresa, the connections can be woeful. During travel in Peru in Bolivia and living in Lima, I have uniformly had trouble accessing the internet through cabinas, with regular problems such as a painfully slow connection, websites and programs not working, and even power cuts taking their toll on some occasions.

I have learned that it is probably best not to expect too much when visiting a cabina; this way, when the internet does work, I take my internet time much less for granted, and realise just what a privilege this actually is. And apart from anything else the cost of using the internet is minimal when compared to expensive public access in the UK; perhaps not so minimal for those who need every last céntimo just to eat.

In the case of private connections, I’ve just been disconnected from the Internet since Sunday morning, essentially because the friend’s connection I had planned to use to write this blog was rigged off of another line. For people who can’t afford the high costs of the service providers, riggings are the most convenient form of home Internet access. I am currently sipping on an espresso to access this privelage.

In Peru, up until recently, private connections had been monopolised by company Teléfonica. This monopoly was handed on a plate by now incarcerated ex-president Fujimori to a Spanish company Teléfonica.  During his burst of privatisation in the early 90’s, his government sold off what was previously a nationally owned enterprise, through ENTEL Peru and Compañía Nacional de Teléfonos, for around two hundred million dollars. This was despite Fujimori stating in his campaign that he would do no such thing.

Teléfonica’s dominance has remained strong and has continued into the Internet age; it is rare to find a connection not provided by the company. This means they can keep the price of private connections high, and that cabinas remain by far the most affordable form of Internet use.

Even in some cases when people seek a legal Internet connection from Teléfonica, their service can be very inefficient. It took 18 months for them to respond to the friend whose connection I was using, never visiting said person’s home to install the line even after repeated phone calls. And in the end, it was actually a Teléfonica employee to whom they turned to rig the line, paying a one-off sum for unlimited internet access.

The competition is starting to get its act together, thankfully, as Teléfonica’s contract with the government has run out; maybe this will spur them to providing a better service.

Luckily for me, my work has provided me with an internet connection the entire time; quite simply, they have the plata to do so. Not wanting to spend the entire day on the computer, though (a previous concern of mine), I’ve never bothered with a private Internet connection, partly tempered by the fact that my humble Laptop has all but died.

Through my experience outside of the workplace I have learned that Internet access is absolutely a privilege. Of course, it should be a right; hopefully it wont hinder future blog posting….

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One response

12 02 2010
Mike

Or you can just hit up a starbucks whenever you want..by the way, look at my FB wall….notice anything Sr. Ross Gill? Needless to say, i am disappointed…

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