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Venezuela’s internet is on the brink of collapse after quarantine data increase and fuel shortages

Maduro has ordered internet companies to remain operating, but infrastructure is buckling.
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Coronavirus is leaving people everywhere homebound. This means a lot more people are using the internet, be it to stream video content, to video call loved ones or even for gaming.

YouTube and Netflix has already addressed this by nerfing the default playback resolution of videos on its platform down to 480p. While the number may seem low, most people will probably not notice on portable devices with smaller screens. And the keen-eyed ones that do can always turn it back up if it bothers them so much.

Don’t underestimate the surge in internet usage, though. According to Venezuelan operator Movistar, data usage during Venezuela’s first week of quarantine was equal to the country’s usage during all of 2019 – bearing in mind that the overall number of internet users in Venezuela has gone down by millions, in recent years.

They now fear that Venezuela’s internet is about to collapse.

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President of Movistar Luis Rodriguez Zarco wrote a letter to his subscribers on March 20 asking them to use the internet responsibly. “Our service is indispensable for critical sectors such as health care and the food industry.”

According to Bloomberg, Netflix streaming more than doubled during the first five days of Venezuela’s national quarantine, which started on March 17th. Social media use has increased by about 40%. Each day has hit a new record in data usage.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made it “forbidden to cut off telecommunications services in the country during the next six months.” An interesting move – not in the least because authoritarian regimes usually cut off internet access themselves.

More to the point, telecom operators in an extremely capitalist country like the US where the two main competitors earn hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year could handle such a mandate and eat the losses over six months. 

Venezuela however clearly can’t.

Broadband internet plans in Venezuela cost 15 cents to $1 per month. According to recent data from Speedtest.net, Venezuela’s mobile broadband speed ranks 139th worldwide, while their fixed broadband ranks 175th.

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