Friday, May 31, 2013

Cuba's New Cybercafés: A Piecemeal Strategy

Cuba's New Cybercafés: A Piecemeal Strategy
May 30, 2013
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Next month, 118 public Internet access points will open
across Cuba, something which Cubans, one would expect, ought to regard
as rather good news. Though any step in the right direction should be
applauded, it would be remiss not to gauge the real impact this measure
will have on the island.

Supposing that there are 8 million young people and adults across Cuba
who are interested in using the Internet, we would have one cybercafé
for every 65 thousand people. You would see line-ups of people longer
than those that would gather outside bodegas if they began handing out
beef rations again.

With a total of 334 computer consoles around the country, the cybercafés
will be open 11 hours a day. If every user were to navigate for only an
hour, a mere 3,700 people would be able to access the Internet a day. If
we maintain our initial figure of 8 million potential Internet users,
people would get to connect once every 5 years.

Even if we assume I am exaggerating and that only 10 % of this
hypothetical population wants to use the Internet, each person would
have access to the web only once every six months. And Cuba's phone
company, ETECSA, needed all of two years to take this bold step, from
the date in which the installation of an underwater fiber-optic cable
between Cuba and Venezuela was completed.

Though the company's directives offer some hope, claiming that, "in the
future", they will attempt to expand their services to meet demands with
Wi-Fi networks, Internet service for mobile phones and even homes, they
play it safe and conclude by saying they "cannot give any specific dates."

People, however, can do their own math. If, in the time since the
sub-aquatic cable was installed, the capacities created can accommodate
a mere 3,700 users a day, it will take centuries before all Cubans of
age and deserving of Internet access have this privilege.

In addition to this, they have announced that rates will be lowered to
US $5.00 (4.50 CUC) for every hour of Internet use, a price which proves
affordable if one connects to the web once every six months, but which
would entail spending US $135 a month if one wanted to do so, for 1
hour, at least once a day.

A Cuban's average monthly salary is of US $20. Supposing that, in a
given family, there are two people earning this salary and a couple of
pensioners receiving US$ 10, plus a relative in Miami who sends them US
$50 every month, they would have to devote the family's entire income to
pay the cybercafé bill.

The problem, apparently, is that ETECSA requires substantial sums of
money, "significant investments", to modernize the country's
technological infrastructure. It shouldn't take long to put together
such money, considering that, with these new cybercafés, the can take in
US $16 thousand a day, some 6 million a year.

Strict Rules on Users

In addition to being expensive, cybercafés will impose strict rules on
users, and authorities will reserve the right to block the account of
any individual who employs the web to carry out actions that "undermine
public safety or the country's integrity, economy, independence and

ETECSA will also "immediately suspend the service if it detects that,
during the navigation session, the user has violated any of the ethical
norms of behavior which the Cuban State has established."

In a nutshell, no politics and no sex. I imagine that the slogan of
these cybercafés will be something along the lines of "A healthy
Internet for the Cuban family." A system of filters which block access
to a number of ideologically or morally "offensive" sites is already in

Political censorship on the web is rather "tropical": though some sites
operated by Cubans living in Miami are blocked, the main newspaper of
Cuban exiles can be freely accessed by cybernauts on the island. In the
case of Spain, one anti-Castro page is blocked and another isn't, though
both publish pretty much the same information.

When it comes to moral matters, however, censors evince the puritanism
of a small-town parish priest. In their crusade against pornography,
they block new pages containing videos, photographs, contacts, stories
or any kind of eroticism – literally nothing gets past them.

They are also particularly intolerant of any commercial use of the web.
Cuba's main classifieds page,, is blocked. There isn't a
single Internet user in Cuba, however, who does not know how to use a
proxy to evade the official filters and access these ads.

The most surprising restriction, however, is that people under 18 will
not be allowed to navigate the Internet at these cybercafés. It looks as
though junior and senior secondary school students will have to
cultivate a good deal of patience and wait until they reach university
to get to know what the Internet is all about.

We would well be justified in describing Cuba's current strategy for the
expansion of Internet services, which leaders in the sector insist will
lead to a luminous future of web connectivity, as a piecemeal tactic.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original posted in Spanish by
BBC Mundo.

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