Will Cuba embrace the internet revolution?


Will Grant (BBC News) explains that the Cuban government is still debating the positive and negative aspects of internet use but that, in the meantime, a home internet pilot program is in progress. There are also more than 240 public access Wi-Fi spots around the island. Grant writes:

No matter how much you warn visitors to Cuba that they’ll be offline during their stay, they often won’t believe it until they actually arrive in Havana. On arrival, they find their iPads and smartphones suddenly only serve for taking photos which, to their dismay, can’t be immediately posted to their Instagram or Facebook accounts. Whether Snapchat-obsessed millennials or email-addicted workaholics, they stare at their phones in disbelief, waiting in vain for the familiar “4G” symbol to appear, as the realisation dawns that an enforced digital detox is upon them.

[. . .] Yet what for the tourist is either a temporary inconvenience or a welcome offline breather is a very different reality for ordinary Cubans. For years, it felt to many on the island like the internet was something happening elsewhere, to other people.

Recently though, it is easier, and cheaper, to get online in Cuba than it used to be. There are now more than 240 public access wi-fi spots dotted around the country and the price for an hour of internet access, while still expensive by international standards, has dropped by more than half, to $1.50 (£1.20) for an hour. It is now a common sight to see people sitting with their laptops or phones in parks and public plazas connecting with their families abroad via video-chat technology.

In the latest development, the state telecommunications company, Etecsa, has installed internet connections in around 2,000 homes in the capital’s colonial district, Old Havana, as part of a two-month pilot scheme. [. . .]

The Cuban government’s position on the internet is twofold. First it blames the US economic embargo for the lack of information technology in Cuba, saying that many of the major IT firms around the world fear running foul of Washington’s strict rules on trading with Cuba.

Since the bilateral thaw of December 2014, that has been harder to argue, of course. Last year Google reached an agreement with Etecsa on storing its online content, such as YouTube video and Gmail, on servers inside Cuba to improve local access. Google executives are also keen to provide further internet-based solutions to challenges on the island.

However, there is also a lingering official distrust of unfettered internet access. Whether stemming from an ill-advised USAid-run programme intended to undermine the Castro government via a text message-based form of “Cuban Twitter” called ZunZuneo or a broader suspicion of social media as a tool of dissent, the authorities have traditionally been wary of the net. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39119873

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