|Internet access in Belize is among the slowest and most |
expensive in the region. But access to the internet has been
declared a human right in a Guatemalan town not far away.
Image courtesy of Animal Ethics.
We're communicating with a craft on Mars, but I've been having internet problems here on Earth. I live in a rural part of Belize, so am probably lucky to have the service in the first place. But it costs me. I paid a $500US connection fee, and pay $65US per month (which includes rental of a wireless router). This is for 256K speed, which is really really slow - think dial-up speeds. It makes watching video almost unbearable, downloading painful, and uploading anything nearly impossible. Add to this the intermittent power outages that also take down service, and the extreme weather that keeps people at risk of surges. I'm on my 5th router in about a year, and I religiously unplug my power strip every night. Each time I've lost my router due to a storm (or something), it has taken a minimum of 2 days to get service back up and running. I have to just keep telling myself that I'm lucky to have internet service at all.
Think I'm exaggerating? Channel 7 News Belize recently published a story on a report that surveyed internet services throughout the Caribbean. Belize is among the slowest and most expensive in the region. The story reported:
First, Belize was one of only three countries still offering speeds of less than one meg; in Belize the lowest speed that you can purchase is 128k - only Dominica is lower with 64k.
Second, the price for 256k in Belize - 51 US dollars monthly would buy you 1 Megs in Anguilla. 1 Meg is about 300% faster than 256K.
Third, the maximum speed available in Belize is four megs - when in many other territories it is eight or nine megs. And the survey shows that in Belize, you'll pay the second most in the region, 436 US dollars for those four megs - when you can get twice that, 8 megs in the Bahamas for just 70 US dollars.Perhaps internet speeds are something that could be argued aren't that important, and we should all be thankful just to have internet access in the first place. Well that would be great, except, I'm one of the lucky few here in southern Belize with that access. According to the 2010 Belize Census, in a district of nearly 40,000 people, less than 4000 are reported internet users, or just under 10% of the population. When 40% of the population lives in poverty, and over 17,000 people are unemployed (that's over 40%), paying over $50US for internet service is just out of the realm of possibility.
What made me write about this in the first place was another story that I read in Global Voices. Renata Avila reports that in neighboring Guatemala, the Maya village of Santiago Atitlan has declared access to the internet a human right. Village authorities are working to install town-wide wireless that will be available free of charge to everyone, locals and visitors alike. Avila reports:
The concepts of community and sharing are entrenched in the daily life of indigenous people in Guatemala. Common spaces, open doors, collaboration and sharing are the main characteristics of these communities, especially among small linguistic communities such as the Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous group in the Highlands of Guatemala. As cultures evolve and adapt to new discoveries in science and technology, indigenous cultures are embracing new technologies and adapting their use to accord with traditional principles. Such is the case with Internet access.
It's unclear how free internet access will ultimately affect the community, but it will readily facilitate people from this remote town on the shores of Lake Atitlan to more easily communicate with the rest of the world. Local youth have already begun a TV & web program that allows for discussion of local concerns like recycling and ecological issues. In such a historically poor and repressed region, having immediate access to global allies and friends may come in handy in times when others of their rights need protecting.
|Should internet access be a universal|
Photo courtesy of Article-27.
A move towards such equalizing measures like the one made in Santiago Atitlan also allows us to see the situation here in Belize in a slightly different light. With prices out of the reach of so many people here, the widespread lack of internet access can be seen as a form of structural oppression. Whether deliberate or not, the inability to connect can be a liability in a world where global connections have become ubiquitous. The reporter for Channel 7 Belize asked an executive at the country's internet provider the following:
"Has it occurred to you all that perhaps the fact that the internet being cheap or whether it is expensive and the existence of large corporations are inter-related that when you have inexpensive internet it drives economic and corporate growth and when you have expensive internet its retards that growth."
The executive replied by blaming the global recession and an ill-prepared workforce for Belize's economic problems, and basically sidestepping the question. As in most of the rest of the world, money rules the day here in Belize, and if you're poor, that's your problem. At least when it comes to luxuries like the internet. But should access to the internet be universal? Should access be a human right?