In cities in the interior or in peripheral neighborhoods, small providers are the salvation of those who need broadband internet. But in many locations, this type of service is left in the hands of criminals, leaving little or no room for legitimate providers. This has been happening in communities in Rio de Janeiro and other cities.
Legitimate telecommunications companies even try to offer their services in these locations, but are often expelled or prevented from installing the necessary infrastructure to do so. It’s what counts Reuters.
An example comes from Morro da Formiga, located in the north of Rio de Janeiro. Gabriel Ferrando, a civil police officer who has been investigating the activities of illegal providers in the city, says he even questioned a TIM technician about complaints of lack of internet access in the community. The official replied that armed men had expelled him and told him not to return to the scene.
It didn’t take long for Ferrando to discover the reason: a new internet provider was installed in the community using equipment that would be stolen, including some from TIM itself. Local residents then had only two options: sign up for the new provider’s service or go without internet access.
The case of Morro da Formiga is not an isolated one. Interviews done by Reuters with authorities and executives of telecommunications companies show that this type of organized crime action has gained strength in several communities and is not limited to Rio de Janeiro.
For residents of the affected regions, the problem comes as no surprise. In many communities, criminals already dominated gas or water delivery services, or public transport, for example.
The aggravating factor in the internet access “business” is that this type of service is more complex, which means that residents are more subject to unstable connections or interruptions.
Whether there is good quality in the provision of the service or not, these providers tend to be strict in charging the monthly fee. A resident of the Campo Grande neighborhood, also in Rio de Janeiro, told Reuters that a collector knocks on your door every month to receive the monthly fee of R$ 35, which must be paid in cash, and there can be no delays.
Modus operandi of pirated suppliers
Police investigations show that illegal providers follow a three-step pattern to dominate community internet service delivery.
The first consists of stealing or vandalizing equipment from traditional operators to interrupt the services offered by them. In the second step, criminals threaten the technicians sent to the site so that the repair cannot be done.
Finally, regional providers that have links to the criminals settle in these locations, often making use of the infrastructure left behind by the “kicked out” provider. It is also not uncommon for employees of legitimate operators to contribute to this by improperly passing on equipment and technical knowledge.
Operators ask authorities to act
Marcos Ferrari, president of Conexis (an entity that represents telecommunications companies in Brazil), commented that the sector has been suffering from a series of criminal actions, including vandalism, theft and, as has already been made clear, “expulsion” from territories. For the executive, the authorities need to “fight this type of criminal action”.
Whether on a sufficient scale or not, efforts to do so already exist. In the case of Morro da Formiga, a provider named JPConnect has been investigated. In an operation carried out at the company’s headquarters in January, the police found equipment that belonged to the operators TIM, Oi, Claro and Telefônica Brasil (Vivo).
Another company targeted by the police, again in Rio de Janeiro, is Net&Com. Police are investigating whether the provider paid criminals linked to the Comando Vermelho to get help controlling internet access services in underserved communities in the metropolitan region.
Eberthe Vieira de Souza Gomes, a lawyer representing one of JPConnect’s controllers, told Reuters that the company’s operations are legal and that it gained market share by offering a quality product.
Pedro Santiago, Net&Com’s lawyer, said that the provider is “the victim of a witch hunt” and that there is no evidence of a link with criminals in the wiretaps carried out by the police.
The fact is that the problem is far from over. A survey carried out by Oi shows that, in 2016, legitimate tasters found restrictions in 105 areas of Rio de Janeiro. In 2019, that number quadrupled. Everything indicates that the current situation is even more serious.