Cuba sets up free internet for Havana residents in pilot scheme
Only five per cent of Cubans are estimated to enjoy internet at home
Downtown Havana resident Margarita Marquez says she received a special
Christmas gift this year: web access at home, a rarity in Cuba, a
country with one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world.
Ms Marquez, a 67-year-old retired university professor, was among those
selected by the government two weeks ago to participate in a pilot
project bringing the web into the homes of 2,000 inhabitants of the
historic centre of the island's capital.
Most of Communist-ruled Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants only have access
to internet at wi-fi hotspots, and only then if they can afford the 80p
hourly tariff that represents around five per cent of the average
monthly state salary.
Only five per cent of Cubans are estimated to enjoy internet at home,
which requires government permission. This is usually granted mainly to
academics, doctors and intellectuals.
"It's like a dream come true," said Ms Marquez, who lives with her
sister in a second-story flat in a colonial-era building. "To be in
touch with the outside world is important."
Her 80-year-old sister, Leonor Franco, said the news they had been
selected came as a surprise and she was excited to be surfing the web
for the first time.
"I had never had any experience of internet," she said, seated in front
of a laptop she has owned for two years without web access, searching
for videos of her favourite singers on YouTube.
She said she wanted to learn how to surf the web properly so she could
make the most of the experiment, and for as long as the government
provided free internet access.
"From March we will have to start paying and we don't know if we will be
able to continue. So at least we are going to enjoy January and
February," she said.
While the cost of internet has dropped in recent years, it is still
prohibitive for most Cubans.
Before wi-fi signals became available last year, broadband internet
access had been limited largely to desktops at state internet parlors
and pricy hotels.
However, the government has said it wants to ensure everyone has access
and has installed 237 wi-fi hotspots so far. In September, it announced
it would install wi-fi along Havana's picturesque seafront boulevard,
"There are many places now where you can go and sit and connect along
the Malecon," said Eliecer Samada as he sat on the stone wall lining the
boulevard, checking social media on his phone. "We're happy with this."
Source: Cuba sets up free internet for Havana residents in pilot scheme
| The Independent -