Finally, it’s easier for Cubans to plug in as Internet access grows
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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 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. Cubans
were previously restricted to decrepit state Internet clubs and hotels
that charged $6 to $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 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. Connections are made mostly
through access cards sold by the state monopoly and often resold on
street corners for higher prices.
The spread of connectivity has remotely reunited families separated for
years. 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.
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 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,
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 home Internet test program selected some 2,000 residents of Old
Havana to receive free connections for two months before a planned
expansion and the start of billing for the service. Gonzalez said he
would be able to receive 30 hours of his 128 kilobyte-per-second
connection for $15. That’s slower and more expensive than Internet in
most of the rest of the world.
Many young people hope the spread of access is the start of Cuba seeing
Internet more as a necessity and a right, like the free education and
health care guaranteed by Cuba’s socialist system.
“In my dreams, I’d like for the Internet to be seen like arts and
culture, and, as such, to be free for the whole population, just like
access to education has been for the last 50 years,” said David Vasquez,
27, an online magazine director.
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