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The Debate on Internet Access in Cuba Intensifies

Foto Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez

Photograph by Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez

The communications issue in Cuba is without a doubt one of the most followed and present topics in everyday Cuban life. The improbability of having fast and affordable access to new global telecommunication services has become a popular theme amongst not only those on the island, but anywhere Cubans reside, because of the impact it has on relationships with family members and friends.

Various articles on Cuba's internet problems are circulating on Cuban networks recently. Here are three of them:

ETECSA provides an explanation

Last Thursday, June 16th, officials from the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, ETECSA), the only one in the country, participated in an online forum which was hosted by Cubasi.cu magazine.

In the presentation, ETECSA acknowledges:

El posicionamiento de nuestros servicios es frecuentemente comparado con la asequibilidad y facilidades que ofertan los operadores de telecomunicaciones de otros países, incluidos los de la región de Latinoamérica. En la medida que se desplieguen las inversiones necesarias, nuestra empresa podrá lograr índices cada vez más comparables en cuanto a calidad y desarrollo,  y ampliará la infraestructura de telecomunicaciones, posibilitando la disminución de los precios y asimilando un mayor ritmo de crecimiento y diversificación de los servicios. 

The state of our services is frequently compared with the affordability and convenience with communication carriers from other countries, including those from Latin American regions. As the necessary investments unfold, our company will reach more comparable measures in regards to quality and development, and the telecommunication's infrastructure will expand, making it possible to reduce costs and assimilate a stronger rate of growth and diversification of services.

In the forum, netizens’ questions focused on national mobile telephonic services, cost and access to the internet, highlighting the impossibility of connecting to the Internet from Cuban homes. In this respect, Yosiel, questioned: 

¿Por qué no es posible aún poner Internet en los domicilios a cubanos residentes en Cuba a precios asequibles?, y no me refiero a la infraestructura del típico desastre del Módem a 56 Kb con la inversión que esto necesita que además sabemos no es de buena calidad, me refiero a por qué no poner en cada central telefónica un buen o 4 buenos equipos de red inalámbrica y así cualquiera accedería desde su casa con su Smartphone, PC, Laptop, etc. A la red de redes a velocidades parecidas en salas de navegación de ETECSA misma.

Why is it not yet possible to make the internet accessible in the homes of Cuban residents at affordable prices?, and I am not referring to the typical infrastructure of the disastrous Modem into 56 Kb with the investments that it needs, in addition to what we already know is not good quality. What I am referring to is why not put one or four good wireless network adapters so anyone can have access from home with a Smartphone, PC, Laptop, etc. to the web with similar speed to those in ETECSA centers.

ETECSA responded:

La estrategia de ETECSA prevé el acceso a estos servicios desde los hogares; pero la prioridad inicial de la empresa ha sido ampliar las salas de navegación colectivas, para garantizar el acceso a un mayor número de personas.
En estos momentos, no resulta posible la generalización inmediata del acceso a Internet, dadas las limitaciones técnicas. No obstante, ETECSA se encuentra ejecutando inversiones que posibiliten la implementación de estos servicios con las condiciones técnicas requeridas y a precios inferiores a los actuales.

ETECSA's strategy foresees access to these services from homes; however the company's initial priority has been to broaden the collective centers in order to guarantee access to a greater number of people.
During these times, given the technical limitations, the immediate mainstream access to the internet is not possible. Nonetheless, ETECSA is working on investments that will facilitate the implementation of these services with the required technical conditions and at lower cost than the current ones.

Restricted sites: Access today, perhaps not tomorrow

On June 19th, several individuals and the media confirmed that restricted sites were now accessible from the island, amongst them the popular Skype. 

Other digital spaces like 14ymedio.com magazine by blogger Yoani Sánchez, which upon its inauguration was redirected to yoanilandia.com, and therefore impossible to visit from the island (raising considerable criticism) was now accessible from Cuban servers. Revolico.com, a Cuban e-commerce portal similar to craigslist, was also accessible from the island. Nevertheless, on June 20th, several individuals alerted on Facebook that these sites had been shut down again. In Cuba, a popular phrase explains that  ”joy in the home of the poor doesn't last long.”

Free access to the internet

Reasonably priced Internet access for the Cuban people is what Telecommunications engineer Norges Rodriguez, manager of the blog  Salir a la manigua, is petitioning for on Change.org, addressing Cuban authorities, especially the Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa Ramos.

Amongst the reasons for the request is:

Por  la trascendencia de las nuevas prácticas sociales que ofrece Internet que puede ser comparada solo con las que ofrecieron en su momento la aparición de la escritura, la imprenta, la radio, la telefonía, la televisión, y negarla sería negar el desarrollo.

New social practices brought by the internet are key and can only be compared with those that were offered, at their time, by the emergence of writing, the press, radio, telephonic services, and denying this would equate to the denial of development.

In this particular case, the novelty resides in the fact a blogger from the island has initiated an online campaign. Previously, a petition with a similar purpose had been promoted In Cuba, we ask for reasonable prices for internet access from our mobile phones, but from Florida, United States, on the website Cubanet

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