Young Cubans look forward to greater openness to ICT
Worldby Inter Press Service – September 11, 2015 0 6
By Ivet Gonzalez | Inter Press Service
HAVANA—Young people in Cuba are anxiously awaiting an acceleration of
the informatization of society, which is apparently moving ahead at the
same pace as the current reform process, “without haste, but without
pause,” according to the authorities.
“Where I would really like to have Internet is at home,” Beatriz Seijas
told Inter Press Service (IPS), sitting at the entrance to a building on
Avenida 23, a street in downtown Havana better known as La Rampa, where
the state telecoms monopoly Etecsa opened one of the 35 new Wi-Fi access
points around the country in July.
Seijas said she came to try the connection here, for $2 an hour.
“As a Cuban, I had never connected to the Internet by telephone or
tablet,” the 19-year-old university student said.
“Connecting to the Internet is just a normal thing to do,” said the
young woman, who despite the technological and connectivity problems in
this Caribbean island nation, sees the new information and communication
technologies (ICTs) as a natural part of life, like many of her peers
around the world.
Today six out of seven people across the globe have a cell phone and
more than 3.0 billion of the world’s 7.1 billion people use the
Internet, according to the United Nations, although there is a large gap
in ICT access—another reflection of global poverty and inequality.
Digital natives is a term used to refer to people born after 1980, who
had access to computers, video games, the Internet and mobile phones
from a young age.
Young people, who represent 26 percent of Cuba’s 11.2 million people,
are the main voices calling for greater openness to ICTs.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ranks Cuba 125th out of
166 countries in telecommunications development.
The UN agency estimated that only 3.4 percent of Cuban households had
private but state-regulated Internet connections in 2013, most of them
via dial-up modems and a small proportion through DSL service, which is
limited to certain professions, such as journalists and artists.
In June Etecsa reported that there were more than 3 million cell phones
in the country.
In 2013 Cuba’s national statistics office Onei registered 2,923,000
users of the Internet and the country’s state-controlled intranet, where
a limited number of international and local sites can be accessed.
In a July 6 online forum in the local media, the Communist Youth Union
said that “more than 60 percent of the people online in Cuba are young
people,” without specifying whether they were referring to the Internet
or the intranet.
“The prices are not affordable, but people make the effort. I’ve seen
that demand outstrips offer,” said Seijas, who uses her allowance to
surf the web for fun.
In 2013 Cuba expanded connectivity, opening 118 public Internet cafés,
but at a cost that was unaffordable to the average Cuban: between $4.50
and $6 an hour.
Until then the Internet was available only in certain government
institutions, schools and Young Computer Club community centers, as well
as to tourists in hotels.
In 2014 mobile phone e-mail service was made available. The 35 Wi-Fi hot
spots created by Etecsa are on sidewalks and in parks in 16 cities
around the island, and up to 50 or 100 users can log on simultaneously
at a speed of one megabit a second.
But although the price of surfing the net for one hour at the 35 public
spaces with Wi-Fi is $2, down from $4.50 in the state-owned Internet
parlors, that is still prohibitive in a country where over 5 million
people earn a public-sector salary averaging $23 a month.
The demand is driven by a segment of the population who are earning more
in the growing number of private businesses, receive remittances from
family members abroad, or have better-paid jobs in foreign companies.
It is also fuelled by people’s hunger for new things or the search for
higher speed Internet.
Although they can log on at the University of Camagüey, a young
professor, José Carlos Hernández, and students Merín Machado and Dany
Avilés told IPS that they sometimes pay the $4.50 an hour rate at the
cyber café in the city of Camagüey, 578 kilometers east of Havana.
The team maintains the social network Dreamcatchers, which emerged in
2012 as the first one totally developed by young Cubans—computer science
students and professors from the University of Camagüey.
The network, which now has 15,000 users, “bolsters research and
development in the university community,” the 21-year-old Avilés
explained. Also available over Cuba’s intranet, Dreamcatchers promotes
itself as a collaborative social network based on ideas, which brings
together “like-minded people,” the computer science student said. It
offers a messaging and chat platform and a page for sharing ideas.
The three young people said they were sure there would soon be more
Internet access in Cuba, which, they stressed, would be a very positive
thing for their project.
The socialist government faces the commitment to reach the ITU’s Union’s
target of 50 percent household Internet coverage and 60 percent
cell-phone coverage by 2020 in developing countries.
To meet this and other international goals, early this year the
authorities launched a plan to expand computer use in Cuban society and
boost the social use of the Web in sectors like health, education and
science, increase access in public site like cyber salons and parks, and
provide access at home.
The program’s aims to include: developing the country’s fixed and mobile
telecoms infrastructure, using Wi-Fi and fiber optic to bring in
broadband, reducing Internet costs, and fostering e-commerce and the
Authorities in Cuba, which has been caught in the grip of economic
crisis for over 20 years, have not specified the funds to be allotted to
the plan. But they did say it was backed by China and Russia.
The ICT sector was not part of the package of business opportunities
presented in 2014 with the aim of attracting $8.7 billion in foreign
Based on these announcements, experts anticipate that Cuba plans to
continue to regulate public access to the Internet along the lines of
China and Russia, whose governments exert control over the Web.
Source: Young Cubans look forward to greater openness to ICT |