TechnologyUsers of the free internet in Mexico City: "It goes very slow,...

Users of the free internet in Mexico City: “It goes very slow, I only use it in an emergency”

A woman uses her mobile phone on the esplanade of the capital’s zócalo, in August 2021.Gerardo Vieyra (Getty Images)

In the Plaza de Santo Domingo, in the center of Mexico City, Rosa drinks a soda and checks her phone in the shade of her kiosk. Less than three meters from her, a tall post announces a free Wi-Fi connection. But she uses her own data rate. Why? “That [señala al poste] it doesn’t work, it never charges, I don’t think it even has internet ”, he replies. However, it seems to the newsstand “very cool” that last week the Mexican capital won the Guinness Record for the most connected city in the world, thanks to its 21,500 connection points at no cost to the network. He says that he lives in Colonia Morelos, and that his daughters do use it there. “When their internet plan runs out, they go out to connect,” he explains with a laugh, “and they are doing a little better than here.” He points to the screen of his mobile, “look, it doesn’t even appear to me.”

At 20 meters, in the arcades of the square, there are posts in which they write a letter for you that will get you a title or certificate of doubtful validity. Pepo and Gacho are waiting for customers. What do you sell? “Everything”, they respond surprised, as if it were obvious. They are sitting at a white table with three cell phones. In two of them they check their social networks. In the other a series is reproduced. Like Rosa, they use their own data because the network does not reach them. In addition, they have heard cases of people who have their phone information stolen for connecting to public Wi-Fi, and they are scared. Still, they have ever used it. “Well, it does not go so fast, but for a free internet it is not bad, it gives you for social networks and chat, but not to watch videos or music”, sums up Pepo. “It is used in an emergency, if it can be avoided, better not,” agrees Gacho.

In the last three years, Mexico City has gone from 98 Wi-Fi access zones to 21,500, according to the Digital Agency for Public Innovation. This increase in free internet points earned them the Guinness Record last week, which the head of government of the capital, Claudia Sheinbaum, celebrated in a statement: “We are an innovative city of rights; innovative because it uses technology to open rights to the inhabitants of Mexico City; technology would not make sense if it were not for the benefit of the inhabitants and, in particular, of the most vulnerable in our city ”.

However, according to the testimonies of a score of people consulted by EL PAÍS, in this case the number of connection points does not go hand in hand with the quality of the service. Daniela assures that she has never managed to connect to the network: “He never grabs me, anywhere, I always have to use my own data.” Leonardo smokes leaning against a wall in the center of the city: “The videos never finish loading. I only use it when I lose my network and I have an emergency ”. Rebeca reads on her tablet, in the shadow of the Zócalo Cathedral: “I’ve ever tried Wi-Fi, but it’s too slow, I prefer my data.” A couple of kilometers away, on the Paseo de la Reforma, Samuel says with a laugh that he only connects “when this [señala su teléfono] It warns me that I have no balance left, but it is not the best, as many people use it, it takes a long time to load ”.

Digital divide

In 2020 in Mexico, more than 84 million people were internet consumers, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). The survey estimates that 78.3% of residents in urban areas are users, compared to 50.4% in rural areas. On the street, most of those asked answer in the same line: they prefer to use their mobile data because the public network is very slow. But there are also exceptions that break the rule. Like Katy, who runs a street hat stall, she kills time between customers looking at her cell phone and says she has no complaints, that what she uses it for is good for her. Or Sebastián, who is a guide, and now, leaning on a pole while waiting for a tourist to request a tour, he doesn’t take his eyes off the screen: “I’m with my data, although sometimes I do use the city’s Wi-Fi. It takes a while to connect, but then it works well for social networks ”.

Gonzalo Rojón, director of analysis at The CIU, a consulting firm specializing in telecommunications, sees the measure as progress. He believes that the bugs reported by users may be due to technical problems, being a still young initiative. Or a question of perception, when comparing the public network with that of your mobile operator. However, he considers that there is a basic problem in terms of structure: “All the free internet access points that you can have are obviously welcome. However, there are still places in the city where there is no connectivity. It is important to ensure that everyone can have adequate availability and use of the internet. Especially since the pandemic we have seen clear the needs we have. The infrastructures are fine, but it is useless to have Wi-Fi in a public place if you don’t have connectivity at home ”.

Daniel, who is not very talkative and runs a kiosk in the Zócalo, seems to want to agree with Rojón. Less than 30 meters from your post you have a free internet point. Kill dead hours at work with your phone thanks to public Wi-Fi. He says that yes, it is slow, and it only serves to send messages, but it does the trick. That it is true that it should work better being so close to the network, but it is free and to him, at least, it helps to take away the boredom. And he shrugs, ending the conversation.

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