Cuba’s Really Terrible Internet, Explained
The internet in Cuba is so bad that Cubans had to invent their own. Full story and video: http://bit.ly/1WL1WbW
- •Cuba has some of the worst internet access in the worldOnly 5 percent of Cubans able to access the uncensored web. Since the communist revolution of 1959, the Castro regime has enforced a strict ban on all forms of information flow that challenge official policy and history. Enforcing such censorship has been relatively easy for an island nation that has a monopoly over all media outlets. But when the internet arrived in the '90s, it complicated matters for the Castros.
- •Cuba was one of the first countries to connect in the Caribbean regionCuba's first 64KB/s internet connection came to life in 1996. Cuban technicians were resourceful, educated, and motivated to connect the country, which led to a surge in initial infrastructure development. That surge soon stalled as the government realized the ramifications of allowing such a decentralized and uncontrollable network into the lives of the Cuban people.
- •Connecting to the web in Cuba has historically been a matter of money and powerSome government insiders have dial-up internet in their homes. But for the rest of population, getting online has meant paying around $9 for one hour of internet access in state-run internet cafes. This in a place where an average salary is just over $20 per month. Alternative methods include poaching wireless internet from hotels, which can be done if one person gets his hands on the wifi password and shares it.
- •The country is taking baby steps toward connectivityIn July, the regime let out a little steam by installing 35 wifi hotspots throughout the island. Now, to connect, you can buy an access card for $2, which will give you one hour of access to the uncensored internet. These access cards are usually sold out, which has led to an informal street market where cards go for $3 or $4. Is this an improvement? Perhaps. But 35 expensive hotspots for 11 million people is certainly not a significant step toward a freer internet.
- •The Cuban government has made efforts beyond the 35 hotspotsIn April, the international telecoms office of the government announced a plan to connect all Cubans to the internet by 2020. How they will do this and what level of censorship the connection will have is not clear, but the announcement shows that the government recognizes the need for an expansion of internet access.
- •Cuba is reluctant to accept help from the USLast December's normalizing of relations between the US and Cuba brought with it new allowances for US telecoms companies to sell equipment to the island. Top Google executives have made several visits since the announcement, offering Google's infrastructure to help expand internet in Cuba. But the regime is not likely to consider these offers.
- •Cuba has turned to China, a model in how to keep a tight grip on the internet faucetThe 35 wifi hotspots use Chinese hardware, and two Chinese telecoms firms, ZTE and Huawei, have proposed a plan to connect the island by 2020. Cuba is much more likely to entertain a deal with China, given the two countries' parallel ideologies toward open information.
- •Momentum is building across CubaAs Cubans get a taste for the wonder that is the internet, they want more. As internal pressure grows, the Castro regime will likely continue to find creative ways to offer the internet without losing control of the flow of information. The opening of Cuba to foreign investment and travel will only speed up the process.