Raqqa residents complain poor Internet service, ‘Rcell’ high prices

Al-Wadi Street in the center of the northeastern city of Raqqa - May 2023 (Enab Baladi/Abduljalil al-Mawla)

Al-Wadi Street in the center of the northeastern city of Raqqa - May 2023 (Enab Baladi/Abduljalil al-Mawla)

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Raqqa – Abduljalil al-Mawla

In an isolated house in a village in the western countryside of Raqqa, the 53-year-old Anoud al-Fasih got tired of trying to contact one of her two expatriate sons in Europe.

Every time her son tries to call and they have a video call through a social media app, it shows “Calling” on her smartphone screen without her being able to see her son.

The woman we met in her house finds no solution but to enter the house once and go out to its yard again without being able to talk to her son, even if she goes up to the roof.

At the top of the screen on al-Fasih’s phone, a “G4” sign appears, indicating that the network is “good.” However, boredom appears on her face as she drags her thumb from the top of the screen to the bottom, where the word “Rcell” appears, which means that the network is available; nevertheless, she was unable to see her son’s face or talk to him.

Raqqa and the regions of northeastern Syria rely on the services of the Qamishli-based Rcell Internet Service Provider, which defines itself on its official website as a leading digital company with excellent customer service that strives for progress, development, and innovation. Rcell offers “digital solutions and services in various areas to provide the best possible value to Syrian society, including communications, mobile Internet, digital payments and digital media.”

Rcell does not provide information about its owners or its license and the party to which it belongs, whether official or private.

Poor Internet

Anoud’s case is similar to that of dozens of residents in the city of Raqqa, who complain about the weakness and slow speed of the Rcell Internet provider, a network that provides the region with a 4G system (fourth generation of mobile phone technology).

The network entered the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in late 2018 as the first company to provide Internet services.

Anoud told Enab Baladi that the company’s Internet network has not been working for a short time and has become “very bad, despite promises to improve it, increase the number of telecom towers in the region, and expand the operator’s range.”

She resorted to buying the Rcell line due to the lack of satellite Internet coverage for her home, which is far from the village. If the Internet investor covered her home, this would force her to buy cables, receivers, and a battery to operate it, given the short hours of electricity power.

All of this costs her more than $50, but if she wants to create a special point for her home, she will pay no less than $100, for the dish and accessories, in addition to $10 per month.

To avoid costs, the woman resorted to buying a “Rcell” SIM card (line) for 30,000 Syrian pounds ($3.3), and charging it monthly for 11,000 pounds, because she wanted the Internet to be available on her phone outside the house, but the shipping price recently increased to 14,000 pounds, after the exchange rate fluctuated and its appreciation.

For his part, Ibrahim al-Hussein, 23, expresses his dissatisfaction with the bad situation that the network has reached, which takes some time until a message arrives on the WhatsApp application, and during that period, the young man changes the “Airplane” mode on his mobile phone more than once.

Al-Hussein told Enab Baladi that the quality of the Internet is “bad,” in addition to that, it gives a “fake network,” expressing his dissatisfaction, especially after the network made some adjustments to the packages, and canceled a “savings (economic) package.”

High prices, logistical problems

At the beginning of last March, Rcell canceled the 50,000 packages, which used to provide 1,000 gigabytes. Users call it the “open package,” and the user benefits from it by renewing it monthly for 10,000 Syrian pounds.

The price of the “open package” currently ranges between 13,000 and 14,000 Syrian pounds, and some lines have been suspended by the company, which demanded a review to activate the line.

There is no Rcell service to retrieve or extract the line after it is lost, and this is one of the negative points that subscribers complain about.

Suleiman al-Faraj, 27, is trying to post a picture on a public Facebook page that he is active on, and it is delayed for some time, but the Internet is not able to upload that picture.

Al-Faraj told Enab Baladi that the problem began with him in mid-May when he quit the PUBG game due to the poor quality of the Internet, and he recently discovered that improving the quality of the Internet requires a VPN (virtual private network) service that encrypts Internet traffic to protect the online identity and hide IP address.

Phone shop owners who sell Rcell recharge cards told Enab Baladi that the decline in network quality is caused by the lack of communication towers, a technical defect that the company is working on fixing, and weather factors.

There are many sarcastic, angry, and critical comments by Rcell subscribers on the company’s Facebook posts, especially those that include the company’s offers and services, describing it as a “snail” and a “turtle.”

Recently, satellite Internet service providers have raised the prices of packages to US dollars, with the price of one megabyte reaching about $3.5 and the price of 512 kilobytes to $2.50.

Participants said that the satellite Internet owners raised the price and converted it into dollars, but “the packages are fake.”

In a previous period, the Internet in Raqqa depended on the satellite network received through receivers and transmitters from Turkish networks before the Autonomous Administration replaced it through the Telecommunications Office (affiliated to the Civil Council in Raqqa) with the Iraqi Internet, which users describe as very slow.

The Autonomous Administration banned the use of the Turkish Internet through a circular issued on March 11, 2019, and placed violators of the decision under legal liability.

 

 

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