Date: Sat, 11 May 1996 14:15:43 -0500
> S * IN ACTIV-L
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/** reg.guatemala: 167.0 **/
Guatemalan government limits Internet access
Guatemala Weekly, 20–26 April 1996
The Guatemalan government moved last week to limit access to the Internet, making private satellite or telecommunications links illegal and ruling that it alone can directly access the Internet. Under the new government regulation, published on April 12 in government newspaper Diario de Centro America and already in effect, it is now illegal for Internet users to make a phone call abroad to access the Internet server of their choice, even if they use Guatel's lines.
Guatel, the state-owned telecommunications company, has effectively created a monopoly on Internet use in Guatemala, according to Kenneth Barnett, legal representative of Cybernet, a local Internet provider. "They've set the country back two or three decades," Barnett says. "Why is Guatemala the only country in the world where the state-owned phone company is the only one that can hook itself up to Internet? It's ridiculous. It goes completely against the rules of free speech and free access and everything the Internet stands for."
Barnett maintains that Guatel's new ruling will inevitably mean poor service at higher prices, but the implications are much broader. "If any type of censorship is ever required, they'll be in a perfect position to achieve it," he says. "Every Internet communication will have to be routed through the government."
The Guatel ruling contains vague language that would effectively permit government censorship of Internet communications. Under the list of prohibited conduct for users, for example, the government has prohibited use of the Internet for purposes "against the security of the State and public order" or "to cause damage or harm to the State."
Nelson Cifuentes, Chief of the New Services Section of the International Division of Guatel, said that the government does not want the Internet used to transmit strategic military information, for example, and that pornography would also fall under the heading of an affront to public order. He said that Guatel alone would make the decisions about whether certain Internet activities fall in the domain of prohibited use and that it would be monitoring what archives Internet users access. "We'll know what computors are receiving certain archives," Cifuentes said, "but we won't know what those archives contain."
Censorship is, historically, a part of Guatemalan life. During the 1993 coup by former President Serrano, for example, the government censored all local communications media. All radio stations were required to run programming by TGW, the state-owned radio station, which played marimba music and ran official news during the crisis. Newspapers were required to submit their editions to government censors before publishing. International television programs, such as CNN and ECO, were blacked out when coverage turned to Guatemala.
Even during times of relative calm in Guatemala, the military is frequently accused of monitoring local and international communications, with Guatel's help. When Guatemalan newspaper Siglo XXI announced two months ago that its faxes were being routed to the Army's Secret Service branch, Guatel would not provide any information about the phone number to which the Siglo faxes were being routed.
The new Guatel regulation, Accord Number 04-96, states that "Guatel is the only one that can directly connect itself to the Internet Global Network." The regulation goes on to state that "It is forbidden for final users and Providers of Internet Service. . . to use any other transmission medium to connect themselves to the Internet which is not the National Access Port of Guatel."
Cybernet, the first Internet provider in Guatemala to have obtained permission to use a private satellite link for its service, must, under the terms of its contract with Guatel, pay 10% of its proceeds to the phone company. Cybernet is living with those terms, but isn't happy about it. "Why would you have to pay them anything?" Barnett asks. "Guatel is charging us for the local infrastructure that our clients have to use to call us.
They also forced us to put Guatel's logo in all of our publications at no charge."
Because Cybernet has control over its satellite link, they can increase it as the number of their subscribers increase. They are currently using a 512 kilobyte per second link, as opposed to the 9.6 kilobyte per second link of Guatel's public data switching network, known as Mayapaq, or the 64 kilobyte rate of Datalink, another Guatel company. Nelson Cifuentes of Guatel said the company can now offer up to 128 kilobytes per second and that it would possibly have 512 kilobyte speeds by mid-July.
But Barnett questions whether Guatel would upgrade its satellite links. "What are the odds of Guatel paying for a higher capacity satellite link?" he asks. "It's the same question as why can't Guatel install more telephone lines. It's because the infrastructure is too expensive and their profit margin falls."
Guatemala has one of the lowest per capita telephone rates in the world, with about one telephone per 100 inhabitants. Persons wishing to obtain a telephone line are forced to wait for years, even though they are willing to pay the stiff fee, equivalent to more than a year's salary for most Guatemalans, required by Guatel to purchase a phone line.
"The worst case scenario for Cybernet is that we'd have to work through Guatel," says Barnett. "But we're going to do everything legally possible to make sure our present contract isn't invalidated. We're going to court."
PLEASE TELL EVERYONE TO COME AND READ THIS NOTE. GUATEMALA IS BEING BOUND AND GAGGED BY THE LOCAL GOVERMENT PHONE COMPANY AND WE NEED YOUR HELP TO PUT A STOP TO THIS!. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP.