A Dangerous Step Towards More Internet Censorship

Conatel's proposal for an internet exchange point (IXP) could be helpful in principle, but given the hegemony's nefarious history of online practices, it can also be a double-edged sword.

Photo: Caraota Digital, retrieved.

One of the major consequences of last year’s nationwide blackout was the huge damage to our already faulty internet service. In recent days, as parts of Venezuela like the Andes or Guayana suffered a series of serious electric failures, connectivity in those areas was affected as well.

Therefore, the announcement by the state’s telecom regulator CONATEL about consultations with major Internet Service Providers (ISP) in order to install several Internet Exchange Points (known as IXP) seems like timely news. At the time of writing, the proposal is at an early stage, with only scheduled discussions between the regulator and companies.

But digital rights activist Andrés Azpurua raised concerns about its possible repressive uses by the Venezuelan state. He also says that those consultations lack transparency because they’re done without the presence of civil society or users’ groups. 

Right now, most online censorship is restricted to the main ISP in Venezuela: the state-owned CANTV.

Azpurua directs Sin Filtro, a monitoring project that keeps track of online human rights violations in the country. He told Caracas Chronicles how, in principle, an IXP interconnects all local ISP, making connections faster and more efficient. “The concern is that it centralizes all ISP connections in Venezuela, helping censorship and/or surveillance.” 

Right now, most online censorship is restricted to the main ISP in Venezuela: the state-owned CANTV (even if CONATEL has pressured other ISPs to follow suit). NGO Espacio Público’s 2019 report confirmed that CANTV was the main culprit in most cases: “In at least 93 opportunities the state company set up blockings of different types to stop users from entering specific sites and social networks like YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitter and Instagram.”

The IXP could allow the hegemony to do web phishing efforts (like the case of Voluntarios por Venezuela’s site last year, in which important amounts of private data were stolen) more easily.

In 2010, the regime proposed installing the “network access point” (under its control) as part of reforms to the Telecommunications Law and the Resorte Law. The idea was dropped back then but the IXP could now serve as a viable alternative. “The difference is minimal from a technical point. The issue is that the NAP would be mandatory for providers and the IXP wouldn’t.” Given the current distrust in CONATEL, that’s a non-starter.

Despite recent efforts by some private companies thanks to the dollarization drive, the internet infrastructure in Venezuela remains in dire conditions, according to Azpurua, “we have the worst internet in the region… it’s slow and unreliable.”

And most ordinary Venezuelans end up getting the shorter end of the stick, specially after last year’s blackout and its ongoing fallout: “Our fragile connectivity affects people’s everyday lives.”