Poor internet access in Kichwa territory affects access to information on digital security Rising Voices

Poor internet access in Kichwa territory affects access to information on digital security Rising Voices

Illustration by David Mauricio Gramal Conejo for Rising Voices

A version of this article is also available in Kichwa

Based on the research “Internet access, digital security practices and the use of Kichwa on Facebook and WhatsApp in the Kichwa people of Otavalo” by Alliwa Pazmiño in collaboration with Rising Voices

In Ecuador there are 13 nations with their own languages, identities, forms of organization, territoriality and autonomy, and one of them is the Kichwa People. Our language, the Ecuadorian Kichwa, is in danger of extinction: Intergenerational transmission has stopped, as has its use by new generations. Now that digital tools are widely used in the territory, how is language used on social networks? How is digital security perceived in rural and indigenous areas of the Otavalo canton? How do the inequalities that limit internet access impact?

The language at a glance

The Kichwa language is a Quechua language that includes all the Quechua varieties of Ecuador and Colombia (Inga), as well as extensions in Peru. It has an estimated half a million speakers. The most widely spoken dialects are Chimborazo, Imbabura and Cañar Highland Quechua. – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Recognition: Ecuadorian Constitution recognizes Kichwa as the official language of intercultural relations

Language status: For the Imbabura variant: developing (5) “The language is used vigorously, and some use literature in a standardized way, although this is not yet widespread or sustainable.” — EGIDS Scale, Ethnologue

Digital security resources in this language:

Digital security tools in this language:

  • signal ✅
  • TOR ❌
  • Psiphon ❌

In this article I share some of the findings from the study I conducted with Rising Voices as a Kichwa researcher. Through this research I intended to answer these questions and learn more about internet access, digital security and the use of the Kichwa language on Facebook and WhatsApp in Otavalo. cantonwhich includes the city of the same name and 11 parishes or towns (two urban and nine rural). I focused on learning about the experience of the Kichwa-speaking authorities of these towns, who are elected by popular vote.

I am a Kichwa speaker, and the research that I share here is based on my own relationship with my language and territory: I approached the study, the methodology, and the participants as a Kichwa researcher. I interviewed two local authorities of approximately 35 years of age. I chose them because I think it is important to understand the reality of rural areas in terms of internet access, the use of social networks in the native language and the challenges that people face in terms of digital security. These issues have not been explored, especially with the use of Kichwa as a starting point for the entire investigative process.

The Kichwa language in Otavalo

Otavalo is one of the six cantons of the Imbabura province, located north of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It is known as the “Valley of Dawn” or “Intercultural City”, for its cultural and identity diversity. Otavalo has 110,000 inhabitantsand the majority of the population is dedicated to manufacturing, agriculture, livestock and commerce.

With a long history of colonization in the region, the original languages ​​have mostly been replaced by Spanish as the dominant language. In Otavalo, the Kichwa language is in an alarming situation as it is no longer transmitted. According to the georeferenced sociolinguistic study of the Indigenous Languages ​​of Ecuador, carried out by marleen haboud (2017), 70 percent of the Kichwa population has stopped transmitting the language. Only three out of 10 Kichwa families speak the language at home.

How are digital tools used in this context? Could they be used to revitalize the language?

Internet access in Otavalo

In most rural communities there is internet coverage, especially by point-to-point radio links. However, Internet access is not guaranteed when it depends on economic resources, that is, having to pay for the service. In areas far from urban centers, few homes have internet service, either due to coverage limitations or cost. Families that live from agriculture do not have enough income to pay for a stable connection, so they connect through prepaid data packages from cell phone companies.

According to the Information and Communication Technology Indicators According to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses of Ecuador, 61.7 percent of households in urban areas have internet, while only 34.7 percent of households in rural areas have internet access via cable or modem . State policies have always aimed at implementing projects that cover the needs of the urban environment, as is the case of Infocenters. They are spaces that provide free internet access and training in the basic use of computers, located in the center of each parish, accessible to anyone who does not have Internet access at home or on their cell phone.

According to the testimonials of the participants in this case study, the Internet has become a basic need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, education went virtual and infocenters were the only places students could go to do their homework. However, there were not enough centers to meet the needs of communities further away from populated areas. This inequality became even more visible considering households that do not have internet, much less multiple computing devices so that each child can attend her virtual classes. As one of the interviewees mentioned, although for consult aand homework, due to the health crisis, became a basic need within a totally virtual study modality.

The use of Kichwa on Facebook and WhatsApp

In addition to education, Internet access has now become a necessity for other daily activities, such as communicating with friends and family, searching for information, and accessing services. This has created new forms of communication based on direct and immediate interaction through the use of social platforms. In Otavalo, the most used social network is WhatsApp, followed by Facebook.

I found that Kichwa is not used as much in posts and comments on social networks, either because there are no Kichwa speakers within the networks of friends or because they do not know how to write in Kichwa despite being Kichwa speakers. But there are private groups where they promote its use, as in the case of one of the participants, who has a group of young people from the church in her community, and interacts with them mostly in Kichwa, even if it is through voice messages. . .

During the study I discovered that the Facebook pages of the parish’s local authorities they are used to communicate with the community only in Spanish, while Spanish and some Kichwa are mostly used for personal communications. On WhatsApp they also use Spanish; Kichwa is used only in specific chats with Kichwa speakers where voice messages are sometimes sent. In general, based on the study, I could say that little is written in Kichwa and I think this is related to two conditions: the development of writing in the original language is lacking, and there is a perception that writing in Kichwa is difficult despite of being Kichwa speakers.

Digital security and access to information

Although access to the Internet is limited by the aforementioned conditions, social networks are used in the homes of the Kichwas of Otavalo. Digital security practices are underdeveloped among community members, and the main reason is lack of access to information. Some people have intuitively begun to understand how certain tools and platforms work; however, the participants mention not knowing much about this topic.

For example, the interviewees claim to know a little about the existence of antivirus, but do not use it. Not much is known about the use of strong passwords. One of the participants mentions that he uses the same password for different platforms and hasn’t changed it lately; Another, on the other hand, mentions that his password is in Kichwa, has many characters and numbers, and changes it every year.

Regarding file backups, the two informants point out that they have backup copies on external drives and in the cloud: “Yes, we have backup on the side and also in the cloud(Yes, we have backup elsewhere, we also have it in the cloud). They also have backup copies of your photos: “The photos go to a cloud that is secure.” (The photos are stored in the cloud, it is safe there). Finally, another participant mentions that he uses a cell phone that has a service to save photos in the cloud.

There are different points of view on digital security for the parish’s authorities, but there is a common interest in learning more about the subject and possible strategies. Social networks are places on the Internet where people post and share all kinds of information, personal and professional, with third parties, known and complete strangers. You cannot do without this tool; It certainly provides a facility and many benefits. Being connected is considered a necessity in society; however, most of the time we do so without fully understanding their internal policies, and access to the platforms is done by granting permissions to access user information. What are the implications this could have on the security of Kichwa users?

Some recommendations as a Kichwa speaker

In countries like Ecuador, it is evident that there is a structural inequality both in access to the Internet and in information on digital security. One of the main factors limiting Internet access is its cost. It is important to recognize this reality, to see that access is not just about the presence of an antenna in the territory, but about the real possibility of use and ownership by the people who inhabit it.

At the same time, it is important to point out that digital tools are already present within the territory and this can be an opportunity to promote their use towards the continuity and revitalization of the language. To do this, it is necessary to analyze how people could access the information so that it allows them to use it safely.

Considering the aforementioned findings, I share the following recommendations for strategies to articulate Internet access with the revitalization of the language, considering indigenous rural contexts such as Otavalo:

  • Addressing the lack of knowledge about digital security, it is necessary to implement projects on this topic that have cultural and linguistic relevance.
  • Implement projects that contribute to the revitalization of the Kichwa language through the use of digital tools.
  • Create projects to reduce the digital divide in communities far from the urban center. For example, establishing spaces such as Infocenters in rural areas far from urban centers, where that population can have free access to the Internet.

The Kichwa language is in danger of extinction. To reverse this process of loss, it is necessary for language to develop in all spaces, including the Internet. Knowing the reality of the digital divide in rural areas is important to find solutions and generate access to information policies and guarantee this right.


Haboud, Marleen (2017). A georeferenced sociolinguistic study of the indigenous languages ​​of Ecuador. Cartographic representation of the state of indigenous languages. GeolinguisticsEcuador.

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