Friday, January 8, 2016

The internet in Cuba



The internet in Cuba


Imagine living in a time where there is no internet.  Unthinkable nowadays.  But, 57 years ago it was common. 

Even worse, imagine living in a time when you know there is an internet, but you cannot access it.  This is effectively what is the case in Cuba today. 

How frustrating would that be? 

Almost grounds for a revolution, don’t you think?  But, no.  Not really.  But that is the subject of another blog.  Why is there not a revolt brewing in Cuba?

Here, let’s focus on the internet.

Only in the last five years has there been any internet availability on the island of Cuba, a nation of 12 million inhabitants.

The internet service that is available is very, very limited.  Let me explain. 

It is available in a very limited number of “hot spots”.  Usually in one location in a city or town.  Such as around the central square in Vinales, a town of 27,000 people.  In the big city of Havana, in addition it is available in several of the upscale hotels that cater to foreign tourists. 

In order to access the internet at one of these “hot spots”, you have to purchase a card with a user number and password.  The cost of the card for one hour of service ranges from 2 pesos to 7 pesos, which is equivalent to $2 to $7 dollars in the United States.

This may not sound like much, but it is a monstrous cost in Cuba for local residents.  When you consider that most people are receiving a monthly salary that is the equivalent of $20 US, then to spend 10 to 30% of that monthly salary on one hour of internet service is not a decision that a reasonable person would make.

In addition, once you have paid the money for the one hour of internet service, the service itself is terrible.   Terrible in that it fades in and out.  You lose your connection three to four times during the hour and have to reenter your 10 digit numerical user code and then your 10 digit numerical password to regain access.

Once you are connected, the internet is unbelievably slow.  You pull up an email, for example, and you may have to wait two minutes to get the email. 

Bottom line, the whole experience of using the internet is so frustrating as to be a non starter.  Combine the access issues, with the service issues once you are connected, with the relative astronomical pricing and you end up with no internet service in Cuba de facto.

Unbelievable in this day and age.

You ask why?  You ask what can be done about it?

As to why.  The answer is simple and straight forward.  The regime, the government, the revolution, the
Communist Party does not want its citizens to have access to the internet.  They control everything, and the internet is no exception. 

We can speculate as to why the government may not want internet access available to the people of Cuba.  If the populace at large was more aware of the opportunities, the progress, the potential that exists in every aspect of their lives from researching and being exposed to other ideas, other people, other countries, other systems, then they might not be as satisfied with their lives today in Cuba.

As to what can be done about it.  I am not sure.  I am going to research this more when I return to the United States.  What technically has to be done to provide internet to the island country?  What infrastructure needs to be in place? 

When asked why there is no more internet service available on the island, the answer that I received more than once, from very intelligent people was that the United States prevented it from happening.  It was the United States that was the reason for no internet.  It is supposedly somehow related to the embargo. 

You may ask what the implication of not having internet is.  Let me give you a real life example.  We met and spent much time with a wonderful young woman, Claudia, who is in her mid twenties.  She would like to study abroad.  She cannot research the options on the internet to determine what her options might be in what subjects, in what countries, and what the admission requirements might be.  She cannot even research a dream that she has.  

Multiply this story thousands of times.  And you begin to see the impact. 

This entire topic is so striking because to me and, I am surmising, other Americans traveling to Cuba, our initial feeling about not having internet availability is relief.  Relief that we can get a break from the minute by minute checking in with the internet to see if we received a text, or email from someone.

And then you begin to understand the impact of not having internet and your view changes very quickly.

There are many things that I would want to do to help the people of Cuba, but having internet service may be on the top of my list.    

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