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            Internet in El Salvador

            Beginnings of the Internet in El Salvador (SVNET Project)
            Privatization and the Internet in El Salvador


Internet in El Salvador
Internet in El Salvador began less than 15 years ago, not much time compared to developed countries which had similar networks since the 70s and 80s. Introduction of Internet in Central American countries took place in the mid 1990s.


Beginnings of Internet in El Salvador
It was in 1993 when the Internet was established for the first time in Central America, the first country to do it Costa Rica. By this time the telecommunication companies of most countries, including El Salvador and Costa Rica were owned by the government. Government services in the third world have been known to be inefficient, and El Salvador was not an exception. At that time people waited for years – a 10 year wait was common - to get a telephone line installed at their home. In comparison to today's private companies which install phone lines in most places in less than 72 hours. If a copper wire is not available, a wireless phone line can be installed in less than one day. Fortunately since its beginnings, the responsibility of Internet access was not left in the hands of the government. A completely new organization was founded in 1994 to administrate the Internet in El Salvador, this new organization was the first step El Salvador took for the incursion of this technology. The SVNET, as it was called, was founded by members of the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (ANTEL), Universidad de El Salvador (UES), Universidad Don Bosco (UDB), Administración Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (ANTEL), Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo (FUSADES) and the Comité Nacional para la Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT). Just months after its creation, in September 1994, El Salvador was able to register the national top level domain “.sv”, which distinguishes Salvadoran Internet addresses from the rest of the countries. A month later local authorities had signed an agreement with UUNet – an American data transmission company – to handle Internet traffic to and from El Salvador. The first Internet service to be tested was the e-mail service, the first tests were done in December 1994 and by March 1995 the service was available to the public. At first, the e-mail service in El Salvador was not instantaneous. E-mails to and from El Salvador where sent and received just once a day. At midnight a telephone call synchronized the e-mails from the servers in El Salvador with the servers of UUNet in the United States.
Later with the help of the Red Hemisférica Universitaria de Ciencia y Tecnología (REDHUCyT), a project of the Organization of the American States (OAS). El Salvador was able to set up the first dedicated connections to the Internet in El Salvador. A dedicated connection is an "always-on" connection, this type of link is necessary for hosting websites (since the websites must be available all day long). This made it possible to host the first Salvadoran websites in the country by the first quarter 1996. Salvadoran websites already existed by that time, but none of them was physically located in national servers.
This dedicated Internet connections were set up in February 1996 using equipment that was acquired with the help of the OAS and REDHUCyT. The first institutions to be connected were: UCA, UDB, among others.
The REDHUCyT's main goal was to "connect the institutions of the member countries to the Internet, integrating an electronic network for the exchange of scientific and technological information among professors, researchers, and specialists of different universities in the member states". At that time Internet was still considered a technology for the few, mainly for scientific uses, it was until later that Internet became mainstream.
Now dedicated connections are very common, but eleven years ago this service was reserved for universities and government use.
The following diagram shows the two stages of the SVNET plan for establishing dedicated connections. In the diagram each blue circle represents a CISCO Router, a router is a special device that allows traffic between two networks. In this case, from a local network to the Internet. The circles named with locations, for example: “Santa Tecla”, “Sultana”, “Roma”, “Soyapango” or “San Miguelito” represent ANTEL's central telecommunication offices in that location. The color of the lines connecting each router represents the speed at which they were connected. SPRINT was the main link to the United States, and Radiográfica Costarricense or RACSA is the Costa Rican state-owned Internet provider. The design of the first two phases of the SVNET project are very similar to those of the first ARPANET. Which focused on connecting only Universities and Government Offices.


Privatization and the Internet in El Salvador
            Privatization has helped the telecommunication services to become more efficient, free market competition definitely has helped in providing better communication services in the country. Prices have lowered, quality has improved, there are more choices, less bureaucracy and less corruption. Competition between companies helps improve the quality of the service, since each of the companies try to keep the quality of their services high and the prices low in order to attract more clients.
During the first years the growth of the Internet in El Salvador was limited by the the cost of the service and the cost of the equipment. But soon after the appearance of many companies the service price lowered. Computers, however, always required a great investment.
The availability of Internet connections increased rapidly in El Salvador because numerous companies started providing dial-up access nationwide. Anyone with a telephone line, a computer equipped with a modem and some extra colones could get the service. In my opinion one of the reasons that the dial-up service grew up rapidly was because setting up that service didn't require much investment. It worked over an already existing telephone network, the investment was limited to the cost of the servers and phone lines necessary for providing the service. Another reason was that the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones (SIGET) did not regulate this telecommunications segment. During the second half of the 1990s, more than 20 companies started providing dial-up internet service. The following table shows the list of Internet providers that started in that time.

Provider Established



CTE Antel Telecom

Jan. 1996


Dec. 1998


June 1996




June 1996




Feb. 1997




Oct. 1997




Dec. 1997








Apr. 1998

Internet Gratis y Mas



June 1998




July 1998


Oct. 2001


Aug. 1998



At this time, the user had to pay for the Internet service and for the telephone call required for the connection. At the early 2000, the companies that charged for Internet service faced a great problem. Telemóvil started providing a free Internet connection service (the call was still charged though), soon other companies like Tutopia, Internet Gratis y Más and Es-ol began offering the free service. Companies that used to provide dial-up Internet for a fee faced bankruptcy, some of them disappeared and others had to focus on other services, such as private Internet links for big companies, website hosting and design. Many people wonder how did this companies that provided free Internet able to make money, the reason was that they got paid by the telephone companies for having incoming calls.
Some years later another turning point came and the Internet connection sector changed completely again. Telecom started providing a paid internet service, but this time, the call required for the connection wasn't charged. This is a perfect example of the irony that "what's cheap costs a lot". Users of "free-internet" had to paid large phone bills for the calls required for the connection. For frequent users, it was definitely cheaper to switch to Telecom paid internet service with no call charge. Telecom owns the largest phone network in the country, that's why they were able to offer the call free of charge.
Another factor influencing in the adoption of Internet, was that both Telecom and Telemóvil started bundling their Internet service with a computer that was sold on credit. This enabled many people to buy computers and have Internet service for as low as ¢400 a month.
            High speed connections were uncommon for private users before 2000, they were mostly owned by companies or universities due to their high cost. The first company to offer high-speed connections in El Salvador was Convergence Communications, however the service was only available in San Salvador. In Santa Ana, high speed Internet connections became available in 2000 by Telefónica when they introduced the service Integra. It is important to say that Telefónica did not have a network that spanned through El Salvador, so in order to provide their service they leased the cabling owned by AMNET. High-Speed Internet providers did not face much competition until 2004, when Telecom launched their ADSL Internet service: Turbonett. With the demand of higher speeds, many dial-up users migrated to Turbonett. Today in comparison with the older 20 dial-up providers, only three offer high-speed services almost nationwide. These three major providers are Telecom which uses its own telephone network to provide ADSL service, Telefónica which still uses AMNET's coaxial cable network to provide Internet service, and AMNET which uses its own network for the same service. The main reason there are less providers today is that offering xDSL and Cable services requires a millionaire investment in infrastructure. Some of the smaller companies still exist, but they offer service in limited areas and mostly using wireless links, others offer dedicated Internet links to large enterprises.


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Author: Rodrigo Noyola

Title: Development of the Internet in El Salvador
Monday, May 14th 2007



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