Poor internet access in Quechua affects access to information about digital security Rising Voices

Illustration by David Mauricio Gramal Cunejo of the rising voices

A version of this article is also available at Quechua

Based on research on “Internet Access, Digital Security Practices, and Kichwa Use of 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 languages, identities, forms of organization, territory and autonomy, one of which is the Quechua people. Our language, Ecuadorian Quechua, in danger of extinction: Intergenerational transmission ceased, as it ceased to be used by new generations. Now that digital tools are widely used in the region, how is language used on social networks? How is digital security perceived in rural and indigenous areas in Otavalo? How does it affect the inequality that limits access to the Internet?

Language at a glance

Kichwa is a Quechuan language that includes all varieties of Quechua in 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, with the most speakers. – Wikipedia

to get to know: The Ecuadorian Constitution recognizes Quechua as official languages ​​for intercultural relations

language status: For the Imbabura-development variant (5) “Language is in active use, with literature being used in standardized form by some although this is not yet widespread or sustained.” – EGIDS Scale, Ethnologue

Digital security resources in this language:

Digital security tools in this language:

  • signal ✅
  • Tor ❌
  • Siphon ❌

In this article I share some findings from a study I conducted with Rising Voices as a Kichwa researcher. With this research, I aimed 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 parokias or cities (two in urban areas and nine in rural areas). I focused on learning about the experience of Quechua-speaking authorities from these cities, who are elected by popular vote.

I am a Quechua speaker, and the research I share here is based on my own relationship with my language and my region: I approached the study, methodology, and participants as a Quechua scholar. I met two local authorities who were about 35 years old. I chose it because I believe it is important to understand the realities of rural areas in terms of access to the Internet, the use of social networks in their native language, and the challenges that people face regarding digital security. These issues are not explored, especially with Kichwa being used as the starting point for the entire investigative process.

The Quechua language of Otavalo

Otavalo is one of the six cantons in the Imbabura Province, located north of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It is known as theE “Valley of Dawn.”or “multicultural city,” because of its cultural diversity and identity. Otavalo has 110, less than 0 peopleThe majority of the population works in industry, agriculture, livestock and trade.

With a long history of colonization in the region, the indigenous languages ​​have mostly been replaced with Spanish as the dominant language. In Otavalo, the Quechua language is in an alarming position as it is no longer transmitted. according to A geographically referenced sociolinguistic study Indigenous languages ​​of Ecuador Marilyn Abboud (2017), 70 percent of the Quechua population has stopped transmitting the language. Only 3 out of 10 Quechua families speak the language in their homes.

How are digital tools used in this context? Can it be used to activate language?

Internet access in Otavalo

In most rural communities there is Internet coverage, in particular by point-to-point radio links. However, access to the Internet is not guaranteed when it is dependent on economic resources, that is, having to pay for the service. In areas far from urban centers, there are few households with Internet service, either due to coverage or cost limitations. Families who make their living from farming do not have enough income to pay for a stable connection, so they connect through prepaid data packages from cell phone companies.

according to ICT indicators From the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Ecuador, 61.7 percent of households in urban areas have internet, while only 34.7 percent of households in rural areas have cable or modem internet access. State policies always aim to implement projects that cover the needs of the urban environment, as in the case of Infocenters. These are spaces that provide free internet access and basic computer training, located at middle of each parokiaAnd It is accessible to anyone who does not have an internet connection at home or on their mobile phone.

According to the testimonies of the participants in this case study, the Internet has become a basic necessity. 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 cover the needs of the communities farthest from the populated areas. This disparity becomes even more apparent given families without internet, let alone multiple computers so that each child can attend their own virtual classroom. As one interviewee mentioned, although he previously used for inquiries aHomework, due to the health crisis, has become a basic necessity in a completely virtual way of studying.

Kichwa use on Facebook and WhatsApp

In addition to education, access to the Internet is now a necessity for other daily activities, such as communicating with friends and family, searching for information, and accessing services. This has led to the creation of 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’ve found that Kichwa is not used much in posts and comments on social networks, either because there are no Kichwa speakers within friend networks or because they don’t know how to write in Kichwa despite being Kichwa speakers. But there are private groups that promote its use, as in the case of one participant, who has a group of young people from the church in his community, and interacts with them mostly in Quechua, even if it is through voice messages.

During the study I found that the Facebook pages of parokia Local authorities It is used to communicate with the community only in Spanish, while in personal communication mostly Spanish and some Quechua are used. On WhatsApp they also use Spanish; Kichwa is only used in specific conversations with Kichwa speakers as sometimes voice messages are sent. Overall, based on the study, I can say that little is written in Quechua and I think this is related to two conditions: the development of writing in the native language is lacking and there is a perception that writing in Quechua is difficult despite being Kichwa speakers.

Digital security and access to information

Although internet access is limited due to the aforementioned circumstances, social networking is used in Kichwa homes in Otavalo. Digital security practices are poorly developed among the members of society, the main reason being the lack of access to information. Some people intuitively begin to understand how certain tools and platforms work; However, the participants stated that they did not know much about the subject.

For example, the interviewees claim that they know little about the existence of antivirus software, but do not use it. Not much is known about the use of strong passwords. One participant states that he uses the same password for different platforms and has not changed it recently; On the other hand, another states that her password is in Kichwa, contains many letters and numbers, and she changes it every year.

As for file backups, the two informants note that they have backups on external disks and in the cloud: “Ari, Charynchikmi Rispaldota, Shook Ladubi, and Chinalata Nobibe(Yes, we have a backup somewhere else, and we have it in the cloud, too.) They also have backups of their photos: “Fotokunaka rin shuk nube nishkaman chayka seguromi kapan(Pictures are stored in the cloud, they are safe there.) Finally, another participant mentioned that he uses a cell phone with a service to save photos in the cloud.

There are diverse perspectives on digital security for parokia 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, acquaintances, and total strangers. You cannot do without this tool; It undoubtedly provides ease and many benefits. Communication is a necessity in society; But most of the time we do this without fully understanding its internal policies, and accessing the platforms is done by granting permissions to access user information. What implications would this have for the safety of Kichwa users?

Some recommendations as a Kichwa speaker

In countries like Ecuador, there is clearly a structural disparity in both Internet access and information related to digital security. One of the major factors limiting Internet access is its cost. It is important to be aware of this reality, to see that access is not just about the presence of an antenna in the area, but about the real possibility of use and ownership by the people who inhabit it.

At the same time, it is important to note that digital tools already exist within the territory and this may be an opportunity to promote their use for language continuity and revitalization. For this, it is necessary to analyze how people access information so that you allow them to use it safely.

Given the above findings, I am sharing the following recommendations for strategies to coordinate access to the Internet with language revitalization, considering Indigenous rural contexts such as the Otavalo:

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

The Quechua language is in danger of extinction. To reverse this process of loss, it is essential that language evolves in all places, including on the Internet. It is important to know the reality of the digital divide in rural areas in order to find solutions and develop policies to access information and guarantee this right.


Abboud, Marilyn (2017). Estudio sociolinguístico georreferenciado de las lenguas indígenas del Ecuador. Representative Cartographica del Estado de las Linguas Indigenas. Geolingüística Ecuador.

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