The Salvadoran Cyber Situation- Internet Use Fails to Keep Up with that of Peers

Internet service in El Salvador has progressed and developed significantly since its introduction to the Salvadoran public in 1995.  Initially, the government was in control of the Internet, which had the express purpose of being a military and scientific network.  In addition, Salvadorans were only able to send and receive emails once per day and at a steep price until privatization and free market competition emerged in 2000 and made Internet services more accessible.

Currently, over a million Salvadorans have Facebook accounts and the country ranks 74 in total number of accounts out of the 213 countries with access to the social networking site.  Facebook is among the most visited websites in El Salvador, along with Google and Youtube.

Members of Voices on the Border partner communities in Morazán and the Lower Lempa region of Usulután are typical examples of Internet users in rural Salvadoran Communities. Due to the cost, any individuals do not own personal computers, but instead access the Internet from cyber-cafés, where computers are provided and a small Internet access fee is paid per hour of usage.  Those using the services of cyber-cafés tend to be under the age of 30 and are mostly young university students, as the Internet is a relatively new technology that has not been adopted by many members of the adult community.  The youth tend to go to cyber-cafés if they have a few spare quarters to spend, primarily to access Facebook, which serves as a cheap, simple way to chat with friends.

In addition, community members in the Lower Lempa and in Morazán alike tend to prioritize mobile phones over computers.  They rely heavily on their mobile phones for calls, texts, music, and even for use as flashlights.  Although some individuals do not have a lot of money to spend on luxury items, it is not unheard of for them to own a smart phone from which they can access the Internet and their email accounts.  However many smart phone owners are among the wealthy, which is the same demographic that represents the main users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Global Information Technology Report of the 2010-2011 year provided a comparative insight into the progress of El Salvador’s technological development.  The rankings provided are out of 139 countries and El Salvador ranked 82nd in the category of Global Competitive Index, 69th in the Accessibility of Digital Content and 87th in the use of Virtual Social Networks.  The report also estimates that 12.1 out 100 Salvadorans are Internet users.

One of the most significant indicators included in the report is the “Network Readiness Index” (NRI).  The NRI assesses the degree to which countries across the world leverage information and communication technologies for enhanced competitiveness.  The NRI framework consists of assessments of a country’s market, political and regulatory infrastructure, as well as individual, business and government usage of these technologies.

Interestingly, El Salvador is ranked 92nd out of 139 countries according to the 2010-11 Network Readiness Index.  It is citied as an example of a country that has failed to “keep up with its peers.”  El Salvador is among the six countries that have declined significantly in rank since the 2006-7 report (where it ranked 61/122) and at which time it belonged to the same decile as China (ranked 59th).

As the influence and usage of the Internet continues to spread throughout El Salvador, through the increased prevalence of cyber-cafés, and the diminishing costs of basic technology, it will likely become easier for El Salvador to harness the power of the Internet and use it to enhance its competitiveness in the global market.