Internet en Cuba

Internet at home in Cuba still a distant dream
Friday, November 19, 2010

A submarine fibre optic cable which is expected to greatly increase
internet connection speed in Cuba will soon be operational, and is
creating moderate expectations among civil society on the island, where
private access to the net is not a government priority.

"Any measure to improve connectivity and expand Cuba's capacity to
access the internet is positive, because it will allow more voices on
the island, both institutional and individual, to be heard worldwide,"
Cuban journalist Francisco Rodríguez, the author of "Paquito el de
Cuba," a popular blog, told IPS.

In his view, "greater (internet) access for civil society, including
institutions and individuals, would contribute to demonstrating that the
(Cuban) revolution isn't as bad as some people make it out to be, nor as
perfect as others would like to think. To do this, we need technology,
but also training in diversity of thought and viewpoints."

In contrast, blogger Yasmín Portales said she did not believe that the
cable would increase residential connections, "because that's not where
the state's interest lies."

Nor does she expect rates to come down, because "if a portion of the
cable's capacity is marketed, charges will be in hard currency to
amortise costs, and most of the population won't be able to afford it."

The latest report on progress towards meeting the Millennium Development
Goals indicates that in 2008 there were 13 internet users per 100
population in Cuba, although separate figures were not quoted for the
global network as opposed to intranets within organisations, which many
professionals use.

A survey of 38,000 households by the National Statistics Office (ONE),
carried out between February and April 2010, found that only 2.9 percent
of respondents had had direct access to the internet in the previous
year. Most of them used connections at their place of work or study.

According to the report, 5.9 percent used private connections, 59.9
percent went on-line at their places of study, 7.4 percent at their
workplaces and 15.9 percent used someone else's internet account.

The same survey found that 5.8 percent of respondents had used email

Internet access at home is available to some academics, scientists,
culture workers and journalists in Cuba. Diplomats and foreign residents
also have access, and must pay for their home internet accounts in
convertible Cuban pesos (CUC), the hard currency that has replaced the
U.S. dollar on the island.

Cubans can use the internet at hotel cybercafes, for the equivalent of
between 7.50 and 12.50 dollars an hour, depending on the hotel category.
A June 2009 ministerial resolution authorised the state postal company
to provide these services, but so far it only offers email and intranet

The 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela
could be completed by mid-2011, according to the timetable announced to
Cuba's state media early this month by Waldo Reboredo, vice president of
Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe, the joint venture company in charge of
the project.

Reboredo said work would begin in Venezuela Jan. 25, 2011, and the cable
would reach Cuba Feb. 15, to be extended later on to Jamaica. After "the
start-up phase, the submarine cable will be operational at the beginning
of the second half of next year," he said.

According to the government, the new cable will make transmission of
data, images and voice 3,000 times faster than internet traffic in Cuba
today. However, the authorities have made it clear that the improvement
in quality will not imply an expansion of information technology access.

Reboredo said the fibre-optic cable would not mean the satellite-based
internet service would be discontinued. Cuba has had to rely on
satellite links because the nearly five-decade U.S. embargo has
prevented the island's access to nearby fibre optic networks.

In January, official reports said this year opened with a 10 percent
growth in international connectivity, thanks to greater satellite
capacity. At present transmission speeds are 209 megabits per second for
outgoing data and 379 megabits per second for incoming.

This capacity will be hugely increased by the Cuba-Venezuela fibre optic
cable, which will initially transmit 640 gigabytes per second. (Each
byte is equivalent to eight bits.)

However, the authorities have reiterated that the government will
continue to prioritise social use of the new technology; in other words,
access will be provided mainly at educational centres, professional
associations or recreational centres.

Cuban media quoted First Deputy Minister of Informatics and
Communications Ramón Linares as saying that the policy is due to
problems in telecommunications infrastructure that require investment
the country cannot afford at the moment.

Gustavo Andújar, deputy head of Signis-World Catholic Association for
Communication, said he found "social use" of internet a rather flimsy
argument, although he understood "that universities, health and
educational centres, cultural groups, companies and other economic
organisations, need priority access.

"I hope decision-makers in this field are aiming at mass internet access
for all Cubans. If not, we are definitely going to miss the boat,"
Andújar told IPS, worried that his country is lagging behind in the use
of this technology in homes on a mass scale.

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