Lack of cash threatens to cut off Venezuela from the Internet

Phone and Internet provision becomes unaffordable to most consumers in the country - and those who can pay are getting very poor levels of service.

As Venezuela continues to spiral into political and economic disarray, access to phone calls and even websites abroad is under threat as operators can't get hold of dollars and inflation is so high they don't know how to price services.

Telefonica SA and Corp. Digitel CA have now suspended roaming services and international calls out of Venezuela after failing to extend payment terms with foreign telcos, according to a Bloomberg report.

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As interconnection fees between local operators and foreign companies become impossible to pay, Venezuela-based providers have tried to pass some of that on to customers with price increases of nearly 10-fold.

President Nicolás Maduro then blocked companies from further increasing prices - and told telcos on Monday to sort the situation out or sell their business to the government if they are unable to do so - but the current reality is that phone and Internet services can only be afforded by a few.

And those who can still pay struggle to get an acceptable level of service due to the outdated infrastructure operators use: Venezuelans get one of the world's lowest Internet speeds, at an average of about 1.9 megabits a second.

Experts see a potential Internet shutdown as something that could introduce a whole host of other issues, including an enormous rise in censorship.

According to a study by Venezuela's Press and Society Institute, at least 372 local websites have been taken down by main Internet service providers, 44 percent of which relating to ways to obtain dollars in the black market, followed by 19 percent of websites featuring content critical of Maduro's administration.