Allfa lives in Azcapotzalco, in Mexico City. His work is being done from home, like many people in the country, due to the increase in the number of coronavirus infections, which at this moment has reached more than 1,300. Since the disease is wreaking havoc worldwide, countries have been progressively increasing containment measures and implementing a quarantine to be able to stop the contagions. In Spain, internet consumption data has multiplied compared to before confinement. Video calls with friends, series of Netflix, Amazon and HBO… Could we imagine a quarantine without internet? In Mexico, it is estimated that there are 39 million Mexicans who do not have access to a network. Also, many others have an unstable connection. Despite the fact that these figures decrease every year, the confinement by the coronavirus may reflect the greatest challenges for the country in digital matters.

Allfa is not a victim of the digital divide, but she has already begun to experience one of the consequences of a quarantine that causes a large part of the population to stay at home and, those who can, increase their internet consumption. “The failures They are always at dawn, the service simply stops working. It has happened almost all week and when entering Twitter there are many more people having the same problem, “he explained to Hipertextual.

During the day, the service, in this case TotalPlay also suffers saturations and signal falls, although for more limited periods of time, about 20 minutes. “Before the quarantine, I never had any problems with the service. I suppose since we are all at home we all want to watch Netflix or play video games,” Allfa said. Although you have contacted the TotalPlay service on several occasions, you still received no response nor has it solved this problem.

On Twitter, incidents have been shared with the same service and the operator has responded that they will provide the necessary help through DM. Hipertextual has asked TotalPlay for more information on the failures registered, but has not received a response so far.

The operators released a message weeks ago stating that two weeks after many companies started implementing telework, no major incidents have been reported but, at the moment when a phase 3 -in which the mandatory confinement is carried out- it is possible that saturations were registered in the network. In addition, they recommended Mexicans use the internet in a moderate way and, for example, try to avoid viewing videos throughout the day and prioritize their use for informational, educational or health purposes.

Problems connecting to the internet in some places in Mexico was already a problem before the pandemic

Technical failures could take place especially in those places where the infrastructure is less resilient and less the signal range. As containment measures increase, the quarantine will come more harshly to specific towns or areas with less coverage. “This situation is not only due to the pandemic, we already had it before. The contingency reaches large cities first and will spread to the villages, where they can have a slower and more limited service, but as they previously had,” he told this means Enrique Culebro, president of the Association of Internet.mx.

This is the case of Ramses. The programmer, who lives in Guanajuato, has had internet problems since 2012. “At that time in the neighborhood where I live there was no internet by cable, only by satellite and they offered me 2 MB of speed for a very high price,” he explained. Later, another operator came and offered him 10 MB, but the problem came with the quarantine. “The massive consumption of the internet makes connections affected, adding that my parents came from Mexico City to quarantine here with me and not expose themselves there so much. This led me to that connection was greatly reduced both for global saturation and now for local saturation, and more because I have to work through VPN, since my work requires it, “he told Hipertextual.

The operator, Telmex In this case, he stated that they will enable fiber optics in their area in order to increase the speed of the connection. As of the date of publication of this article, they have not yet fixed a problem that Ramses carries suffering for 8 years but that the situation caused by the coronavirus has worsened.

For the programmer, this situation prevents him from carrying out his work satisfactorily. But, for other people, the digital divide or the poor quality of their service can lead to a lack of information in an emergency situation like this. “There is a generalized access gap and any communication strategy or official effort related to COVID-19 is going to be difficult to apply because they’re not getting to the thick of people who do not have internet access, “he stressed Iván Martínez, activist and member of the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D).

To date, there has not been a very high number of incidents and experts such as Martínez pointed out that scenarios such as the current one are already contemplated by the infrastructure and in many cases have endured, as happened in some areas of Mexico during the earthquake of 19 September 2017. Saturation may be a minor problem for the minor, but the digital divide is not.

In Mexico it has more to do with availability than with quality. Challenges like home office and learning at home will be somewhat complicated. The issue is in the efforts made by universities, schools, for distance learning, and the Government to communicate. (…) Internet strategies are complicated because millions of homes are connected, but it is not an absolute reality. Community centers and cafes remain the internet access points for many.

Crisis, opportunity factor

Quarantine can be a danger to digital rights because, in addition to the lack of access to information, fake news campaigns are also being carried out or privacy violations. But this situation can also create opportunities.

Enrique Culebro explained to Explica.co that an effect of the coronavirus could be the increase in Internet users in the country. “Those who previously had no interest in becoming one may have it now and those who already are but did not shop online or did not have a technology-based financial service are likely to have it.”

In addition, thanks also to the great penetration of smartphones in the country, this emergency may be to increase the electronic commerce. The president of the Association of Internet.mx highlighted the business possibilities for gym trainers, restaurants that can start selling their food through an app if they did not do it before, and even medical services such as online consultations. “Also for the informal economy, like the one who cleans your shoes. He can tell you to send him a message on WhatsApp and he goes to pick up the shoes to clean them. It seems like a very basic use of technology, but for many people it is not. “