Associated Press writers Peter Orsi, Paul Haven and Anne-Marie Garcia recently underscored the difficulties facing Cuba’s access/entry into what they call “cyber-age.” See excerpts with a link to the full article below:
It was all sunshine, smiles and celebratory speeches as officials marked the arrival of an undersea fiber-optic cable they promised would end Cuba’s Internet isolation and boost web capacity 3,000-fold. Even a retired Fidel Castro had hailed the dawn of a new cyber-age on the island. More than a year after the February 2011 ceremony on Siboney Beach in eastern Cuba, and 10 months after the system was supposed to have gone online, the government never mentions the cable anymore, and Internet here remains the slowest in the hemisphere. People talk quietly about embezzlement torpedoing the project and the arrest of more than a half-dozen senior telecom officials.
Perhaps most maddening, nobody has explained what happened to the much-ballyhooed $70 million project. “They did some photo-op … and then that scandal came out, and then it just disappeared from human consciousness,” said Larry Press, a professor of information systems at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who studies Cuba, referring to foreign media reports and whispers by diplomats that several executives at state phone company Etecsa and the two senior officials in the Telecommunications Ministry were arrested last year.
The cable was strung from Venezuela with the help of key ally Hugo Chavez. Government officials said from the start that the bandwidth boon would be prioritized for hospitals, universities and other usage deemed in service of the common good; the legions of Cubans with little or no access to the Internet from their homes would have to wait.
[. . .] Going online in Cuba will try the patience of anyone who’s ever had a taste of high-speed DSL connections. The problem is that connection speeds here are still Web 1.0, while the world has moved on to fancier, bandwidth-hogging platforms like Flash. YouTube is irrelevant on Cuban dial-up, and barely useable on the rare broadband connections. Want to watch the latest episode of “Mad Men?” At 3-5 kilobytes-per-second dial-up transfer speeds, a 500-megabyte video file would theoretically take somewhere between 28 and 46 hours to download from iTunes. Artists and photographers say it’s nearly impossible to view others’ work online. People swap digital pictures in person on memory sticks rather than simply sending them as email attachments. Students have difficulty accessing research databases.
[. . .] According to government statistics, 16 percent of islanders were online in some capacity in 2011, mostly through work or school, and often just to the intranet. The National Statistics Office said last year that just 2.9 percent reported having direct Internet access, though outside experts estimate the real figure is likely 5 to 10 percent accounting for black market sales of dial-up minutes. For a variety of reasons including the 50-year-old U.S. economic embargo, Cuba is the last country in the Western Hemisphere to get a fiber-optic connection to the outside world, and has relied instead on costly and slow satellite linkups.
[. . .] The official silence over the fiber-optic cable has given rise to other rumors: that the cable is operational but being used selectively. A pro-government blogger known as Yohandry Fontana wrote at the end of 2011 that people who attended a closed forum on social networks reported it was working fine. “Here’s a brief summary: 1. The cable has no problem, it is working. 2. Public Internet spaces will open on the island. 3. Costs for public connection will go down. Note: I am seeking more information,” Fontana said.