Data: The Next Shortage

Last week  Nicolás Maduro ordered CONATEL, the telecoms regulator, to reverse a hike in data charges it had already announced. A dakazo for Internet service, pues.

Can you guess what’s coming next?

Come on, this one is easy! What inevitably follows when you announce ridiculous price controls?

Shortages. Of course!

It’s the smoke that comes with the bonfire.

Bandwidth is already in short supply. Last year, I tried to get Inter’s top-of-the-line plan, advertised as a measly 10 Mbps service (but much better than Venezuela’s average, which is the slowest in the region). It was not to be: the infrastructure is such in dire shape that they’re unable to secure “high” speeds for new subscribers, so I had to settle for the unspeakably retrograde 1 Mbps. Most days, I was lucky if I could get a 0.7 Mbps link.

I’m an internet entrepreneur, I can no more do my work on a 0.7 Mbps connection than a Michellin chef can cook a meal out of a CLAPs bag.

But things can always get worse, and so they will. Much worse.

In this somber read, Corina P.H. tells stories of service outages at home, low speeds on mobile networks and the inevitable loss of productivity in its wake.

Yesterday, the government suspended the rate hikes applying to all telecoms in Venezuela, including the state-owned ones. The proposed hikes were harsh in relation to average salaries, yet still not enough to cover the investment and maintenance costs for the platforms that these companies need to allow us to communicate. Over the last few months our budget’s gotten so tight it’s barely worth calling a budget anymore. Time and again we’ve had to choose between clothes and food, books and food, pens and food, toiletries and food, movie tickets and food, a gift for someone close to us on a very special occasion and food, and every single time we’ve had no choice but to defer any other expense and choose food, which even then is not enough. The new rates implied significantly reducing our data usage and our pay TV subscription, all so we could keep kind of eating. But we’re no fools, and now that the government has clawed it backs rather than relief we’re terrified — pardon, I meant “scared” — that rather than fewer data we’ll be left without any kind of link to the world at all.

If this happens — and I’m sure it will, if things keep going the way they have been — I will no longer know what’s happening beyond my parish, let alone my city, my country or the rest of the world. I will no longer be able to turn to Google to settle any banal question that comes up, and we’ll be left behind from this marvellous knowledge society that we belong to thanks to the internet. I’ll lose contact with many of my loved ones, relatives and friends who now live outside Venezuela. Not only will I have no internet, but they won’t even be able to call me (international phone calls have already been suspended for mobile phones, we’re barely able to call a few destinations from landlines.) And all this will happen without the others, those abroad, even noticing.

She braces for a very dark, but very possible future where Venezuelans will progresively vanish from the Internet. Where they’ll share fewer stories, where it gets harder and harder for their loved ones abroad to reach them.

Alas, this seems not to be on the radar for many people who took to Twitter to celebrate Maduro’s populist initiative, too brainwashed to put two and two together.

Wake up, brothers, the evidence is staring you in the face.

Now that’s a legacy worthy of “Comandante Eterno” status.

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