Cuba sees explosion in internet access as ties with US grow
Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press
Associated PressJanuary 14, 2017
HAVANA (AP) — Two days before Christmas, Luis Gonzalez received a
little Chinese modem from Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company.
The 55-year-old theater producer connected the device to his phone and
his laptop computer, which instantly lit up with a service unimaginable
in the Cuba of just a few years ago — relatively fast home internet.
“It’s really easy to sit and find whatever you need,” Gonzalez said as
he sat in his living room updating his Facebook account, listening to
Uruguayan radio online and checking an arriving tourist’s landing time
for a neighbor who rents rooms in their building in historic Old Havana.
“Most Cubans aren’t used to this convenience.”
Home internet came to Cuba last month in a limited pilot program that’s
part of the most dramatic change in daily life here since the
declaration of detente with the United States on Dec. 17, 2014.
While Cuba remains one of the world’s least internet-connected
societies, ordinary citizens’ access to the internet has exploded over
the last two years. Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has
opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the
country. Cubans were previously restricted to decrepit state internet
clubs and hotels that charged $6-$8 for an hour of slow internet.
In a country with an average monthly salary of around $25, the price of
an hour online has dropped to $1.50, still steep but now well within the
range of many Cubans with private income or financial help from
The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet
daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people
sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces
illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such
as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts
of the Cuban diaspora. Connections are made mostly through access cards
sold by the state monopoly and often resold on street corners for higher
The spread of connectivity has remotely reunited families separated for
years, even decades. It’s fueled the spread of Airbnb and other booking
services that have funneled millions in business to private
bed-and-breakfasts owners. And it’s exposed Cubans to a faster flow of
news and cultural developments from the outside world — supplementing
the widespread availability of media spread on memory drivers.
Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places:
thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially
available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for
about $100 — double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the
repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet
increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and
restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.
On the official front, Google and Cuba’s state-run telecoms monopoly
Etecsa struck a deal last month to store Google content like YouTube
video on servers inside Cuba, giving people on the island faster,
While the explosion of internet in Cuba has taken place alongside the
process of normalization started by Obama in 2014, it’s unclear how much
better relations have speeded up Cuba’s move online.
Obama said in announcing detente that he welcomed “Cuba’s decision to
provide more access to the Internet for its citizens,” but neither
Obama’s team nor Cuban officials have detailed whether that decision was
directly linked to negotiations to restore diplomatic ties and began
What is clear is that Cuba began to dramatically increase access about
six months later when the government began opening Wi-Fi spots around
the country. For many Cubans, the start of home internet in December is
potentially even more significant, breaking a longstanding barrier
against private internet access in a country whose communist government
remains deeply wary about information technology undermining its
near-total control of media, political life and most of the economy.
The pace of change in Cuba often depends on the state of relations with
its giant neighbor to the north: both tensions with the United States
and leaps forward like Obama’s visit to Havana last year have prompted
crackdowns by hardliners worried about the government losing control.
While President-elect Donald Trump’s administration has promised to take
a harder line on Cuba, both opponents of President Raul Castro’s
government and those advocating closer relations favor more access to
information for ordinary Cubans.
Source: Cuba sees explosion in internet access as ties with US grow –