Bolivia’s terribly undeveloped internet infrastructure is said to be among the worst in Latin America. Sky high prices make home connections out of reach for majority of the impoverished population. In fact, only 5.4% of Bolivian homes are online compared to the South American average of 42%. To compensate, Internet cafes are ubiquitous and offer an affordable rate of around US$0.30 per hour. Unfortunately however, public connections are painfully slow and you’ll likely be sitting next to a group of screaming teenage gamers.
A lobby group called Mas y Mejor Internet Para Bolivia (More and Better Internet for Bolivia) has put together a chart which compares costs and connection speeds with our neighbours. It’s in Spanish so I’ll explain the gist of it.
They compared the cheapest Internet Service Provider (ISP) from each country in South America and calculated the average cost of a 1MB connection. Bolivia comes in as the most expensive by a long shot at an average of US$29 per 1MB per month. They then compare the average cost per 1MB connection to the minimum wage (right hand column). As you can see, Bolivia is getting royally screwed in this respect, paying 17% of a minimum wage just to have basic home internet. This would be the equivalent of an Australian paying $425 per month for a lousy 1MB connection. No wonder so many people here go to internet cafes.
Unfortunately, the reality is actually much worse. Entel’s ADSL plan (which is used in the chart) is so popular for its low price that it’s literally currently not available anywhere in La Paz. When I asked about availability an Entel employee told me to “come back next year”. So in reality, the prices shown in the chart are only available to a lucky few. What’s actually available costs substantially more.
So why is ADSL so difficult to come by? Bolivia´s Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, explained that because Bolivia is landlocked the country must rent access to the international fiber optics grid from Chile at an inflated price. He says his government is negotiating more cost effective cable connections through Argentina, Peru, and Brazil but this new infrastructure will take some time to develop. He estimates that things should get faster and cheaper within a year, although this is probably wildly optimistic.
Because ADSL is so limited, most people are forced to rely on mobile internet plans such as Wimax or 4G. In early 2014, Entel were the first to introduce a 4G LTE package including a wireless router which they advertised as cutting edge, despite the fact the technology had been available for years all over the world. At just under $30 per month for a 1MB connection, it was excellent value by Bolivian standards. However, word quickly got out and so many people signed up that their systems became heavily saturated (overloaded). During peak hours there is often no point going online at all.
Another major problem when trying to find an ISP is that there are no regulations governing minimum connection speeds. It’s legal to advertise a connection as 1MB if it can occasionally reach that speed, even if in reality it usually hovers around 56k (dial up speed). Disturbingly, there are ISP’s out there that still actually offer dial-up connections.
Other ISP’s such as Tigo or Viva offer wireless plans that are a lot more reliable. Far fewer people use them due to their significantly higher price which subsequently reduces network saturation.
If you’ve bothered to read this far you’re probably researching ISP’s for yourself so I’ll list the best options. There are other plans apart from these mentioned so click on the links for more info.
- Viva Wimax, 1MB= US$37 per month, unlimited* (I’ve heard mixed reviews).
- Tigo USB Modem 4GLTE= US$28 with 8GB limit (fast but watch the limit).
- Tigo Wimax, 1MB= $140(!!), unlimited*.
- Tigo HFC, 1MB= $23 per month (A new package that looks great on paper but is currently limited to Zona Sur, Sopocachi and parts of Ciudad Satilette).
- Entel ADSL, 1MB= US$28 per month, unlimited* (the best option hands down but currently has no availability city wide).
- Entel 4GLTE, 1MB= US$28 per month, unlimited* (good on paper but heavily saturated, especially during peak hours).
- AXS ADSL, 1MB= $US40 per month, unlimited* (great premium option but limited coverage).
- Vuela Wimax 1MB= US$28 per month with 10GB limit (a very good option but watch your DL limit).
- Cotel ADSL 1MB = US$20 per month, limits apply (great new ADSL option, seems slower than AXS’ ADSL, but excellent overall value for money. Their website has not been updated to reflect new prices).
*unlimited plans tend to half your connection speed after a set cap, i.e. 75GB.
A lot of people here buy internet for their mobile devices and use them to create a wireless hotspot to share with their family. This costs around US$20 for 3GB for 30 days. I use Entel and their 3G is fast enough for my mobile phone needs. If this is your primary source of internet, be aware that it’s very easy to chew through your download limit.
UPDATE 2016: This year COTEL have drastically dropped their ADSL rates. Our 2MB connection costs 240BS per month and is miles ahead of the wireless 4G LTE or WiMax connections we’ve tried in the past. It’s worth noting that ADSL requires an installed home phone line, which many Bolivian apartments lack.
AXS have always substantially dropped their ADSL rates (perhaps Garcia was telling the truth!)
Those living in Cochabamba should check out COMTECA, who have also dropped their ADSL rates.