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Life Since Wi-Fi

Cruz del Palmar

Estudiantes, Cruz del Palmar

Inauguración de programa, Ricardo Villarreal

Zonia Torres

By Jesús Aguado

An hour of Internet in the community of La Huerta costs a student 18 pesos per hour. Most of that community does not have cellular reception.

As a contrast, there are some families that have a land line but not Internet. Internet provided by the cell companies is impossible; there is no signal virtually anywhere in the community.

Guanajuato Connected is a program from the state government, the National Center for Renewable Energy (CENER) and the local government. Together, they have placed mother reception towers in the cities and later, they plan to install wireless Internet repeater units to rural and urban sites. The goal is to reduce the digital breach that, regardless of cellular service coverage, is not still enough to penetrate into the countryside.

This program cost the local administration 1.5 million pesos, and is currently providing connections to five rural communities: Don Francisco, La Huerta, Cruz del Palmar, Agustín González, and to one of the most populated communities in the municipality, Congregación de Los Rodriguez, a place where technology exists but every weekend hundreds of residents from adjacent communities gather at the main Jardín.

The Reducción de Brecha Digital initiative was launched on March 13 in Cruz del Palmar. During the inauguration, on a giant screen, an online live stream took place. On that screen, people from the five rural communities had a conversation and sent each other optimistic messages and greetings.

That day, Salud Ramírez—the community’s delegate—gave a speech, saying that the access to the technology was not just for connecting to Facebook, Instagram, or any other social network but that she sees the technology as an information tool for those students and the Internet as a link to connect with relatives and friends living in other cities and even in the United States. But most importantly, through the Internet, she said, they can also ask for emergency service.

How Does it Work?

Zonia Torres Saeb, director of Economic Development and Tourism in the local government, told Atención that the mother tower is located at Picachos and could give the entire city free Wi-Fi, but the program is not up and running. There may be an open call from the state government this year. If this happens, she remarked, 12 more rural communities could benefit.

Torres told us that the repeater units were strategically placed at communities with a population up to six thousand residents because through “mirrors,” that is to say, more repeaters, the entire city could be covered that way. The hot-spots can support up to 50 devices connected at a time, and after 60 minutes, it resets the IP and forces a re-login so that other users can potentially get access.

After a month of the inauguration of this service, Atención visited two places to find out if the technology was working, since it sometimes happens that local governments launch programs and then, after a couple of days, they stop working. What follows is a look at the how the rural communities that received the Internet are doing since the program’s launch:

La Huerta

This place is popular for the microclimates generated by the orchards and gardens on the edges of the Laja River. It is also known for men and women collecting the reeds that grow by the river and making canastas (baskets) for carrying strawberries or tortillas. This is the community where some of the women still keep the tradition of making ceremonial tortillas. There is also an old tree with a spring by its roots. Just over 900 people live here. In the community’s one Internet café, one can pay 18 pesos per hour for use of a computer and the connection to the café’s network.

Close to the Casa Agraria (a Grange), we had a conversation with 15-year-old Juan Mario, who studies at preparatory school. He told us that the new Wi-Fi service has changed his life, because “before I had to pay 18 pesos per hour, there—he points at the Internet cafe—at that place, and now it is free. Serious and confident of his answers, he said that he uses the Internet to get information for homework. “I use Google to get information about the origins of the universe, the philosophers of history, the environment, and many other topics.”

Juan Mario also told us that he gets connected to social networks like Facebook to talk with his friends from San Miguel where he worked last year as a gardener. Now he works part-time when somebody hires him in the community. “If you come between 7 and 10pm, you will see many people here connected. I prefer coming here at 11pm; I look for information, take screenshots, and later go home to do homework, because it is very slow when there are many users connected,” said José Mario.

Carolina Jimenez is 17 years old. She does not know how to use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. However, she wants to become a beauty technician or a chef. She lives in the house across the street from the Casa Agraria. She uses YouTube to watch tutorials and learn techniques to fix hair and also how to cook. “Remember the day you wanted to make rice and you burnt it?” teased her friend Elsa Martínez. (They both laughed.)

Some adults we talked to said that it’s really the youngsters who use the connection.

Cruz del Palmar

This community has close to 500 families. Although guanajuatoconectado has designated it as a high-poverty location, there still vice-regal chapels in this town (also known as “Indians’ chapels,” built by missionary friars in the seventh and eighteenth century). Today, some of these vice-regal chapels are crumbling, and some are used as silos or even as rooms, but three of them were restored in 2011 and are now part of the Indians’ Chapel Tour.

The community has a church, public plaza, and a civil registry office, plus a primary, secondary, and preparatory school. Some families have landlines but no Internet. For those who live in the center of the community, making a call via cell phone is a pain in the neck because they have to go to El Calvario or hunt around for a random place to catch the spotty signal in the community.

We witnessed this problem during our visit, and it was remarked upon by Elizabeth González. She lives on the other side of the river, and when she takes her children to school or picks them up, she takes advantage of the time to use the available signal there for multiple purposes, but mainly to talk with friends and family living in Austin, TX. She is happy with the Wi-Fi, because before it arrived, she spent 100 pesos a week to talk over the phone with her loved ones, and now it is more like 100 pesos a month.

We also talked with students Jonathan Landín, Juan Jesús Ramírez, and Andrés Espinosa. They use social networks, Google for homework, and also YouTube to watch videos from Santa Fe and Santa Grifa.

Doña Nicanora has a convenience store in front of the Jardín. She told us that the Internet is very useful because now she knows her son Ivan is using the Internet there because there is no cell phone reception there. She can see her children living in Mexico City by using the phone.

She also told us that people stay connected at the Jardín sometimes until 1am.

Ivan plays the guitar in a musical group, according to his mother, and used to spend the day playing the guitar. Now he just uses the phone all day. “There is a boy that at 6am is on his rooftop here in front of my house. I see him with his phone. I believe he is on the Internet.”

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