VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net among higher income brackets.19 In 2010, there were over 764,000 mobile broadband subscribers in Venezuela, making up approximately one third of the broadband market.Although there are 25 telecommunications operators in the country, CANTV, which was renationalized in 2007, monopolizes ADSL service and controls more than 90 percent of the internet market. There is some competition from cable modems, wireless broadband, and satellite connections. Inter places a distant second in the market and offers a triple package that includes cable television, cable modem, and telephone service.21 CANTV has benefited financially from state ownership, particularly with regard to currency controls.
For example, since January 2010, when the local currency was devalued, CANTV has been permitted to import a dollar for every 2.60 bolivares, while other firms in the sector have had to pay 4.30 bolivares per dollar.22 CANTV’s Movilnet also leads the mobile-phone market with 14 million subscribers,23 out of a total of 29 million.24 Two privately-owned companies also provide mobile-phone services: Digitel and Movistar. However, they have had to decrease their investments in infrastructure and have begun to ration their services because they are forced to use the higher private-sector exchange rate.25 There are no special restrictions on the opening of cybercafes. CANTV’s position as a dominant, stateowned ISP and mobile-phone provider has raised concerns about the ease with which systemic content filtering and surveillance could be implemented in the future. In recent years, there have been isolated incidents of CANTV engaging in censorship and monitoring when other providers have not (see below), but more systematic controls were not evident.
Advanced applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and the video-sharing site YouTube are freely accessible and growing in popularity.26 On several occasions, however, international blog-hosting services have been temporarily blocked surrounding politically sensitive events. During the February 2009 constitutional referendum, bloggers and Twitter users reported that the site Blogger.com, which housed numerous Venezuelan blogs, was inaccessible to CANTV users for at least 24 hours.27 Blocking allegations arose again during Hernan Galperin, Tarifas y brecha de asequibilidad de los servicios de telefona mvil en Amrica Latina y el Caribe [Rates and Breaches of Affordability of Mobile Telephone Services in Latin America and the Caribbean] (Lima: Dilogo Regional sobre Sociedad de la Informacin, 2010), available at http://dirsi.net/sites/default/files/DIRSI-ITIC-10-asequibilidad-movil-v1.1_3.pdf (in Spanish).
Venezuela is one of five countries in the region with a mobile broadband penetration rate that is above the average rate of developed countries. ITU, Perfiles Estadsticos; Conatel, Estadsticas preliminares.
BuddeComm, “Venezuela—Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts,” http://www.budde.com.au/Research/VenezuelaTelecoms-Mobile-Broadband-and-Forecasts.html, accessed August 12, 2010.
“Oswaldo Cisneros sigue apostndole a Venezuela: Digitel busca vas para consolidarse en 3G” [Oswaldo Cisneros Still Betting on Venezuela: Digitel Seeks Ways to Consolidate in 3G], Casetel, June 23, 2010, http://www.casetel.org/detalle_noticia.phpid_noticia=509 (in Spanish).
“Los nmeros oficiales de clientes de Cantv” [The Official Number of Clients of CANTV], Inside Telecom 11, no. 42, November 3, 2010, http://m.insidetele.com/newsletters.phparticle_id=-3103130866257163706 (in Spanish).
Conatel, Estadsticas preliminares.
“An sin dlares para nuevas inversiones” [Even Without Dollars for New Investments], Casetel, August 23, 2010, http://www.casetel.org/detalle_noticia.phpid_noticia=637 (in Spanish).
Alexa, “Top Sites in Venezuela,” http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries;0/VE, accessed December 20, 2010.
See for example: http://www.cristalab.com/blog/chavez-y-cantv-bloquean-blogger-y-blogspot-ayer-en-venezuela-c68770l/.
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net the parliamentary elections on September 26, 2010. From September 24 to 27, blogs hosted by WordPress were inaccessible. Venezuelan bloggers claimed that CANTV blocked WordPress on the grounds that many of the sites it hosted were found to contain “illegally published” electoral content. However, an anonymous source at CANTV reportedly attributed the disruption to maintenance work on WordPress servers.28 The government made no effort to clarify the situation.
The state acts as both the dominant service provider, through CANTV, and the sector’s regulator and licensing authority, through Conatel. The president has the power to name and remove Conatel’s director and the four members of its Directive Council.
Although Article 35 of the Organic Law of Telecommunications provides for Conatel’s operational and administrative autonomy, a series of presidential decrees over the past decade has shifted oversight of the commission to various ministries and finally to the vice president,29 which has increased the agency’s politicization.30 Conatel has repeatedly demonstrated pro-government bias in decisions related to broadcast media, though it has not yet made comparable judgments affecting the internet or mobile-phone service.
LIMITS ON CONTENT Although the Venezuelan authorities do not engage in systematic internet censorship, several measures have been taken to restrict the circulation of information deemed displeasing to the government, and officials have warned of their intention to control online content.
According to free expression advocates, the objective of such measures is to gain the upper hand in a medium that is heavily used by the political opposition.
No systematic content blocking or cases of judicial censorship have been reported in Venezuela. However, since the renationalization of CANTV in 2007, there have been some incidents of blocks linked to sensitive political information. For example, days after the closure of the country’s largest private television broadcaster, RCTV, in May 2007, two internet radio stations that transmit from Miami—Radionexx and CaracasRadioTV—began to be filtered by domain name. These are the first websites believed to have been censored by CANTV.31 In April 2009, managers of El Liberal Venezolano, a blog of opposition-oriented David Sasaki, “Internet Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Latin America,” Informacin Civica, November 1, 2010, http://informacioncivica.info/new/internet-censorship-and-freedom-of-expression-in-latin-america/.
See Andrs Caizlez, “Conatel, la joya de la corona” [Conatel, the Jewel in the Crown], Tal Cual, August 9, 2010, http://www.talcualdigital.com/Blogs/Viewer.aspxid=38920 (in Spanish).
Jess Urbina Serjant, “Venezuela,” in Las mordazas invisibles: Nuevas y viejas barreras a la diversidad en la radiodifusin [Invisible Jaws: New and Old Barriers to Diversity in Broadcasting] (Montevideo: Program on Law and the Right to Communication, World Association of Community Radio [AMARC], 2009), http://legislaciones.amarc.org/mordazas/VEN_pais.htm (in Spanish).
“Venezuela comienza el bloqueo de Internet” [Venezuela Starts Blocking the Internet], Noticias 24, May 31, 2007, http://www.noticias24.com/actualidad/noticia/5324/venezuela-comienza-el-bloqueo-de-internet/ (in Spanish).
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net political and economic opinion, reported blocking that affected CANTV clients.32 In the period surrounding a controversial new monetary devaluation in January 2010, a wellknown blog that published black-market exchange rates was blocked, along with some other sites providing similar information.33 In May, it was reported that CANTV users could not access a website with content pertaining to violent crime and insecurity,34 problems for which the government has drawn considerable public criticism.35 These sites remained inaccessible to CANTV users through year’s end, but those accessing the internet via Inter or mobile phones provided by Digitel reported being able to reach them. In the run-up to parliamentary elections in September 2010, the news-aggregator site Noticiero Digital, the 28th most popular website in the country,36 was temporarily inaccessible from Venezuela via CANTV in addition to the above-mentioned blanket block on WordPress.37 Separately, the sites of international human rights organizations like Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and Amnesty International are freely available.
The lack of clarity on whether the government is responsible for any of these cases of apparent blocking is compounded by the political situation in the country, in which there are no established checks and balances between the different branches of government, and the judiciary lacks independence. In this context, there is no transparent process or independent institutions through which website owners and content producers can pursue complaints of disruptions.
Although technical filtering has been limited, the authorities have taken steps to intimidate news portals and hosting companies, encouraging them to engage in selfcensorship. This effort has centered recently on Noticiero Digital, known for its aggregation of content from other media outlets and the aggressively antigovernment viewpoints of its columnists and commenters. In 2007, it was already receiving approximately 450,000 daily “CANTV confirma bloqueo de El Liberal Venezolano” [CANTV Confirms Blocking of El Liberal Venezolano], El Liberal Venezolano (blog), April 15, 2009, http://liberal-venezolano.net/2009/04/15/cantv-confirma-bloqueo (in Spanish).
Dollar.nu and Preciodolar.info. See “El Gobierno Venezolano Empezo a filtrar el Internet” [The Venezuelan Government Began to Filter the Internet], Ultraforos.com, January 6, 2010, http://www.ultraforos.com/foro/general/192628-el-gobiernovenezolano-empezo-filtrar-el-internet.html (in Spanish).
Marianne Diaz, “Venezuela: Polmica por el bloqueo de pginas web por el ISP gubernamental” [Venezuela: Controversy Over Website Blocking by Government ISP], Global Voices, May 16, 2010, http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/05/16/venezuela-polemica-por-el-bloqueo-de-paginas-web-por-el-isp-gubernamental/ (in Spanish).
In August 2010, a special court for the protection of children and adolescents, responding to a request by the ombudsman’s office, prohibited print media from publishing images of violence for a month. The measure was criticized as unconstitutional, and came shortly before legislative elections in September. Yolanda Valery, “Venezuela: cruce de racciones por prohibicin de imgenes violentas” [Mixed Reactions to Prohibition of Violent Images], British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), August 18, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/america_latina/2010/08/100819_0145_venezuela_reacciones_prohiben_fotos_violentas_naci onal_tal_cual_alf.shtml (in Spanish).
Alexa, “Top Sites in Venezuela.” David Sasaki, “Internet Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Latin America,” Informacin Civica, November 1, 2010, http://informacioncivica.info/new/internet-censorship-and-freedom-of-expression-in-latin-america/; Noticiero Digital, “Carta abierta a CANTV, de parte de Noticiero Digital” [Open Letter to CANTV, from Noticiero Digital], news release, September 28, 2010, http://www.noticierodigital.com/forum/viewtopic.phpt=696877 (in Spanish).
VENEZUELA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net visits. In March 2010, the attorney general began legal proceedings against the site for the publication in one of its forums of false information regarding the deaths of the minister of public works and housing and a well-known spokesman for the ruling party. The president demanded legal action because, in his words, “both one who says false information and one who allows it to be said and developed, are committing a crime.”38 In their reply, the editors of Noticiero Digital pointed out that although they do not arbitrarily censor their commentators, they have terms and conditions that participants agree to and which are rigorously enforced. They reported that the rumors were spread by two forum participants who had registered just minutes earlier and that once notified, site administrators acted rapidly to eliminate them and suspend the users.In March 2010, the attorney general asked the National Assembly to create legislation on the use of the internet by social media outlets. The legislature in turn issued a resolution instructing two of its committees to investigate websites that incite hatred and violence and lead to crime.40 Reacting to the government pressure, some forums and pages specializing in news suspended their commentary systems, though the announced investigations have not yet led to any concrete legal restrictions or punishments. Some activists have suggested that the Noticiero Digital affair was orchestrated by the government with provocateurs posting the rumors in order to provide a pretext for intimidating websites and encouraging self-censorship. In June 2010, President Hugo Chvez alleged that an op-ed article published by Noticiero Digital was inciting a coup d’etat and demanded a criminal investigation. The site’s managers argued that the author alone was responsible for what he wrote. The Public Ministry assigned two lawyers to open an investigation. Robert Carlo Olivares, author of the article in question, stopped collaborating with Noticiero Digital and refused to provide the site with information regarding his legal identification and address, as requested on behalf of the attorney general’s office.42 As with the earlier case, the results of the investigation remain unknown, but the site suspended registration of new forum participants as a preventative measure.
“Noticiero Digital Responde a Acusaciones de Chvez” [Noticiero Digital Responds to Accusations by Chvez], El Universal, March 14, 2010, http://www.eluniversal.com/2010/03/14/pol_ava_noticiero-digital-re_14A3582451.shtml (in Spanish).
Noticiero Digital, “Cmo dos foristas recien inscritos se aprovecharon de la libertad de ND y qu hicimos para controlarlos” [How Two Newly Registered Forum Members Took Advantage of the Freedom of ND and What We Did to Control Them], news release, March 16, 2010, http://www.noticierodigital.com/forum/viewtopic.phpt=631523 (in Spanish).
Gaceta Oficial no. 39.389, March 18, 2010, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/gaceta/Marzo/1832010/1832010.pdf#page=1 (in Spanish).