Internet in Cuba
The Internet in Cuba is among the most tightly controlled in the world. It is characterized by a low number of connections, limited bandwidth, censorship, and high cost. The Internet in Cuba stagnated since its introduction in the 1990s because of lack of funding, tight government restrictions, the U.S. embargo, and high costs. Starting in 2007 this situation began to slowly improve. In 2012, Cuba had an Internet penetration rate of 25.6 percent. Recently, many in Cuba have been able to circumvent government restrictions using satellite cell phones, many of which are paid for by friends and relatives abroad.
Cuba's first connection to the Internet, a 64kbit/s link to Sprint in the United States, was established in September 1996. Since its introduction in the 1990s it has stagnated for three major reasons:
- The government's fear of information freedom and its unwillingness to risk political instability in order to achieve the benefits of the Internet.
- Lack of funding due to the poor state of the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Cuban government's fear that foreign investment would undermine national sovereignty (in other words, foreign investors putting Cuba up for sale); and
- The U.S. embargo, which delayed an undersea cable and made computers, routers, and other equipment expensive and difficult to obtain.
According to Boris Moreno Cordoves, Deputy Minister of Informatics and Communications, the Torricelli Act (part of the United States embargo against Cuba) identified the telecommunications sector as a tool for subversion of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and the necessary technology has been conditioned by counter-revolutionaries, but is also seen as essential for Cuba’s economic development.
The political situation in both Cuba and the United States is slowly changing. U.S. regulations were recently modified to encourage communication links with Cuba. In 2009 President Obama announced that the United States would allow American companies to provide Internet service to Cuba, however, the Cuban government rejected the offer and is instead working with the Venezuelan government.
Cuba’s domestic telecommunications infrastructure is limited in scope and is only appropriate for the early days of the Internet. There is virtually no broadband Internet access in Cuba. Cuba’s mobile network is limited in coverage and uses “second generation” technology, suited to voice conversations and text messaging, but not Internet applications. Telecommunications between Cuba and the rest of the world is limited to the Intersputnik system and aging telephone lines connecting with the United States. Total bandwidth between Cuba and the global Internet is just 209 Mbit/s upstream and 379 downstream.
About 30 percent of the population (3 million users, 79th in the world) had access to the Internet in 2012. Internet connections are through satellite leading the cost of accessing the Internet to be high. The average cost of a one-hour cybercafé connection is about $1.50 U.S. dollars for the national network and $4.50 U.S. dollars for the international network, while the average monthly salary is just $20 U.S. dollars. Private ownership of a computer or cell phone required a difficult-to-obtain government permit until 2008. Because of limited bandwidth, authorities give preference to use from locations where Internet access is used on a collective basis, such as in work places, schools, and research centers, where many people have access to the same computers or network.
A new undersea fiber-optic link to Venezuela (ALBA-1) was scheduled for 2011. In February 2011 the fiber optic cable linking Cuba to Jamaica and Venezuela arrived and was expected to provide download speeds up to 3,000 times faster than previously available. The fiber optic cable was expected to be in operation by the summer of 2011, but reports in October 2011 stated that the fiber optic cable was not yet in place. The government has not commented on the issue, which has led citizens to believe that the project was never completed due to corruption in the Cuban government. In May 2012 there were reports that the cable was operational, but with use restricted to Cuban and Venezuelan government entities. Internet access by the general public still uses the slower and more expensive satellite links, until January 2013 when internet speeds increased.
One network link connects to the global internet and is used by government officials and tourists, while another connection for use by the general public has restricted content. Most access is to a government-controlled national intranet and an in-country e-mail system. The intranet contains the EcuRed encyclopedia and websites that are supportive of the government. Such a network is similar to the Kwangmyong used by North Korea, a network Myanmar uses and a network Iran has plans to implement.
Starting on 4 June 2013 Cubans can sign up with ETECSA, the state telecom company, for public Internet access under the brand "Nauta" at 118 centers across the country. Juventud Rebelde, an official newspaper, said new areas of the Internet would gradually become available. The cost of Internet access is CUC$4.50 per hour (or CUC$0.60 for domestic intranet access and CUC$1.50 for email), which is still high in a country where state salaries average $20 a month.
Availability and use of the Internet in Cuba is slowly changing. There is a good deal of pent up demand among the well-educated Cuban population. When buying computers was legalized in 2008, the private ownership of computers in Cuba soared (there were 630,000 computers available on the island in 2008, a 23% increase over 2007).
China, Cuba's second largest trading partner and the largest importer of Cuban goods, has pledged to "provide assistance to Cuba to help its social and economic development." Chinese networking equipment and expertise are world class and China has experience building domestic communication infrastructure in developing nations.
In 2009 a U.S. company, TeleCuba Communications, Inc., was granted a license to install an undersea cable between Key West, Florida and Havana, although political considerations on both sides have prevented the venture from moving forward.
In June 2013 Cuba's state-run telecom company ETECSA announced that it plans to begin offering in-home Internet connections by late 2014.
The Cuban internet is among the most tightly controlled in the world. In 2004 the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions expressed deep concern about continuing violations of the basic human right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in Cuba. Cuba has been listed as an "Internet Enemy" by Reporters Without Borders since the list was created in 2006. The level of Internet filtering in Cuba is not categorized by the OpenNet Initiative due to lack of data.
All material intended for publication on the Internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications. Service providers may not grant access to individuals not approved by the government. One report found that many foreign news outlet websites are not blocked in Cuba, but the slow connections and outdated technology in Cuba makes it impossible for citizens to load these websites. Rather than having complex filtering systems, the government relies on the high cost of getting online and the telecommunications infrastructure that is slow to restrict Internet access.
Digital media is starting to play a more important role, bringing news of events in Cuba to the rest of the world. In spite of restrictions, Cubans connect to the Internet at embassies, Internet cafés, through friends at universities, hotels, and work. Cellphone availability is increasing. Cuba has also seen a rise in the community of bloggers. Bloggers such as Yoani Sánchez use new media to depict life in Cuba and how the government violates basic freedoms. Sánchez's blog Generation Y has received much international publicity. Moreover, Sánchez along with other popular bloggers have made it "trendy" for youth to "exercise the right to free speech". New media tools have allowed citizens to record and post their protests on YouTube as well as text message Tweets to people outside of Cuba.
The rise of digital media in Cuba has led the government to be increasingly worried about these tools; U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in December 2010 revealed that US diplomats believed that the Cuban government is more afraid of bloggers than of "traditional" dissidents. The government has increased its own presence on blogging platforms with the number of "pro-government" blogging platforms on the rise since 2009.
In order to get around the government's control of the Internet, citizens have developed numerous techniques of Internet censorship circumvention. In addition to getting online through coffee shops, Cubans also purchase accounts through the black market. The black market consists of professional or former government officials who have been cleared to have Internet access. These individuals sell or rent their usernames and passwords to citizens who want to have access.
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