Cuba Internet Service Improving? Plainly Not

I have written about how Cuba internet service sucks. (See 12 Things to Know Before You Go)  Their service has antiquated technology, few access points, slow speed and low bandwidth. Add to this mix the fact  that the Republic of Cuba does not want its citizens to have access. Individual access from homes is practically non-existent. The state blocks “harmful” site. Cuban bloggers, giving “alternative” news are harassed, threatened, jailed and their sites blocked. To get access, they had to act like tourists and sneak into hotels. Dark skin, or fluency in Spanish was enough to get you thrown out though.Freedom is not something encouraged, or even allowed in communist states.

I was encouraged when I heard that Cuba was expanding the number of wi-fi access spots in Havana. The last list I saw listed about 2 dozen sites (plus hotels and tourist locations). Access is not free; Cubans still have to pay $2/hr, buying access cards from ETESCA locations. Hotels charge $5/hr for the same card to use their wi-fi access.

Evidently, the increased number of access points doesn’t change much about general access. Freedom on the Net still calls Cuba repressive.

Cuba internet service score
Cuba internet service score is horrible

A long excerpt from their report is below. Read the entire article at link above.

Despite modest steps to increase internet access, Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for information and communication technologies.

High prices, old infrastructure, prohibition of home connections, and extensive government regulation have resulted in a pronounced lack of access. The normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States and the opening of ICT trade has eliminated the Cuban government’s ability to blame low levels of internet access on the “blockade.” Even with the embargo still in place, policy changes have opened the way for U.S. telecommunications companies to start offering services to the island. Propelled by U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island in March 2016, this shift in relations has inspired optimism among many observers, who believe it may entail an opening for ICTs in Cuba.

Cuba has taken some tentative steps to reinforce this optimism by improving internet access on the island, but it is still just a drop in the bucket when it comes to alleviating the most draconian restrictions on internet freedom in the Western hemisphere. Access to the high-speed internet provided by the new ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable was finally extended to citizens in late 2013 via the opening of new “navigation halls.” In a more recent move in July 2015, the government opened its first public Wi-Fi hotspots, and has been expanding them across urban centers in 2015 and 2016. However, home internet connections were still banned for the vast majority of Cubans, and even with reduced prices, public internet access points still cost US$2 per hour to use, which is equal to one-tenth of minimum monthly wages. Even for those who might be able afford the new access points, the supply of internet access, mostly concentrated in the capital, is grossly out of proportion with the needs of a country of more than 11 million people.

While the Cuban government faces increased pressure from its own citizens and the international community to expand access to the global internet, the optimism derived from normalization of relations with the U.S. and the increasing access may be premature. Many worry that the Cuban policy is inspired by the example of China and that new infrastructure will not mean an end to controlled and filtered access. Despite the noteworthy emergence of several web-based information sites offering alternative discourses about the Cuban reality, the government has continued to exert control over the digital landscape by blocking critical independent news sites, removing certain content deemed to be “counter-revolutionary,” and arresting or harassing online writers.

Increased tourist traffic is demanding better net access, so it will improve for tourists. I hope it improves for the locals though. Why continue to separate the two worlds of tourists vs Cuban people?

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