Open Access to the Internet in Cuba: Big News or Not?

cubawifi0600 hole in space
Written by Larry Press

The government has recently allowed open Wi-Fi access to the Internet in Cuba. Is this a solitary event, or the beginning of something bigger?

aNewDomain — Cuban artist Kcho quietly received permission to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access at a cultural center in Havana recently. This may not seem like big news — after all, Cuba has many open Wi-Fi hotspots — but this is different in two ways. First, it offers access to the Internet, not just to Cuba’s “intranet,” and it is authorized by the Cuban government as well as the state-owned Cuban telecommunication monopoly, ETECSA.

According to early reports, users of the Wi-Fi hotspot were sharing a single 2 mbps ADSL — which likely costs the artist around $900 per month — though other sources report the speed is actually closer to 512 kbps. A sign on the exterior wall announces the password, “Here, nobody surrenders,” a slogan attributed to revolutionary figure Juan Almeida.

The access must surely be slow when only one person is using it and incredibly slow when several people are sharing the same access point. By itself, this may not seem meaningful — after all, this is only one slow access point in an entire nation — but what if this is the first of many?


Image courtesy of New York Daily News

I believe there are several low-cost steps that could be taken immediately by the Cuban government if it is willing to open access to the Internet in Cuba. One key example — the government could easily roll out nationwide Wi-Fi access to satellite links.

Kcho’s open Wi-Fi service was authorized through the Ministry of Culture and has been in operation for almost three months, but only in recent days has the news been reported by many news outlets. It’s possible that this is merely a drop in the bucket, allowing limited public access in one location. But perhaps this is an indicator that ETECSA is willing to consider opening wider access to the Internet in Cuba. I suspect it is the former, but maybe …

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Featured Image courtesy of Houston Chronicle