Internet

A Truly Egalitarian Internet: In Cuba, the Web Is Terrible for Almost Everyone

Will the country's online connection ever escape the dial-up era?

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After visiting Cuba in 2014, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote, "If Cuba is trapped in the 1950s, the Internet of Cuba is trapped in the 1990s." Affluent tourists might be charmed by the old Packards and scarcity of basic modern amenities, but nobody has fond memories of dialup speeds for web browsing and downloads that took days.

Supporters of the five-decade communist rule of the brothers Castro like to praise the island nation's universal education and access to health care, although the quality and quantity of both vary widely based on one's proximity to Havana and status among the political elite.

Yet when it comes to Internet technology, Cuba is truly egalitarian: The Internet is slow or inaccessible for almost the entire population. But that might be about to change.

Most Cubans simply have no access to the Net, and what access they do have is extremely limited. The Cuban government estimates that 25 percent of the population of 11 million has Internet access, but the watchdog group Freedom House puts that number closer to five percent. No other nation in the Western hemisphere has lower rates of mobile phone or Internet penetration. In a 2012 study, Freedom House called Cuba "one of the world's most repressive environments for the Internet," adding that "there is practically no access to Internet applications other than email, given the slowness of the country's connectivity and high prices and most users are restricted to an intranet for obtaining information."

Credit: noii's / photo on flickr

Home Internet access is almost unheard of, and buying time on computers elsewhere is prohibitively expensive. An hour of glacially slow access at one of 118 government-sanctioned Internet hubs starts at about $5 an hour, but can run as high as $20 per hour—far more than the $5 or $6 Cubans earn each week on average. The government hopes these "cybercafés" will be a source of revenue generated by relatives of Cubans in other countries, who are willing to shell out hard currency so their loved ones can send them the occasional email. 

Meanwhile, as is often the case when the supply of a product is choked off by government restrictions, markets of questionable legality have opened up for digitally derived information.

"Data mules" operate all over Cuba, shuttling hard drives loaded with the latest magazines, films, and television shows (mostly produced in the imperialist enemy nation to the north) to voracious consumers all over the island, reports Jonathan Watts in The Guardian.

Watts profiled one of these "offline Internet" couriers who "has a permit only to burn CDs" and because of the "ambiguous legal status of his business," does not even know the identity of the person who downloads the material he traffics in—nor does he want to. All the courier knows is that the privileged source has a high-speed Internet connection and is willing to profit off of it, and the impoverished inhabitants of Cuba are more than willing to pay for the one terabyte hard drives they call Paquetes Semanal (Weekly Packets). 

In February, the BBC breathlessly announced, "Cuba approves first public wi-fi hub in Havana," demonstrating just how low the bar is set for the Cuban government when it comes to liberalizing access to information and technology for its citizens. The headline, however, obscures the more relevant fact that the government did not open a public hotspot to the public. Rather, authorities gave permission to the sculptor Kcho—sometimes referred to as "Fidel Castro's favorite artist"—to share the wi-fi access endowed upon him with the general public visiting his Havana cultural center building.

Allowing free, possibly unrestricted Internet access is something to be celebrated. But unless 11 million Cubans are planning on cramming themselves into Kcho's building to siphon off a single, low-powered Internet connection, this is a rather insignificant gesture by the regime. 

Even if Raul Castro allowed for more information to freely flow through to the citizenry, Cuba has a bigger access problem: its non-existent Internet infrastructure. Once relying exclusively on satellites, in 2012 Cuba finally connected fiber optic cable with the outside world via Jamaica and Venezuela.

That long overdue initiative, combined with the cautious thaw of Cuba/U.S. relations, has already led to some hopeful signs that American capital can help bring Cuba's miserable '90s vintage of an Internet experience into the 21st century.

There are more reasons to be optimistic going forward. In December, the Obama administration announced that it would end the ban on U.S. exports of telecommunications equipment to Cuba. Google is reportedly trying to "woo" Cuban computer science students. In February, Netflix launched an expansion into the Cuban market. The move was not expected to generate a profit in the short term, but the company hopes it will encourage broadband development and establish the video-on-demand service with Cuban consumers before they get a taste of what choosing between two brands feels like.

When Cuba finally gets to replace its photogenic gas-guzzling 1950s station wagons with boring, energy-efficient Toyotas, the image may be less jarring, though no less uplifting, than the sight of a Cuban teenager texting obliviously on her mobile device while walking down Paseo del Prado. Give it time—it's going to happen. 

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65 responses to “A Truly Egalitarian Internet: In Cuba, the Web Is Terrible for Almost Everyone

  1. During my one trip to Cuba, my oblivious use of the computer at my hotel (i didnt realize that at the time this was one of two internet equipped computers available to the public) lead to a near-immediate raid of my hotel room.

    1. Having a trio of besuited Cuban intelligence agents rummage through my things knowing that my presence wasnt exactly on file with the US embassy was truly terrifying.

      1. Well, if they would have decided to rough you up, at least you would have had access to the world’s best healthcare.

        1. “[…]at least you would have had access to the world’s best healthcare.”

          If there was any available.

        2. … entirely dependent on procedures, knowledge, and technology 1950s-era American physicians would readily consider impermissibly primitive and ineffective.

          Cuba’s one of the fleshy creases in Satan’s flaming asshole.

        3. “…the world’s best most equal healthcare.”
          FTFY

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  2. No worries. Net Neutrality will soon bring our internet down to their level.

    1. Equality! Social Justice!

      1. Off to the gulag you go, you stupid libertard. Make way for a more deserving patron of the God-Emperor, Most Serene and Egalitarian, to inhabit your home.

        1. At least all of my friends will be there. We’ll make a song that will be sung by future generations around the campfire beside their primitive huts.

          In the gulags, we’re equal, you and me!

          In the gulags, you get your gruel for free!

          In the gulags…

          1. You need SOME sort of self-encouragement when all hope is lost and your life’s over.

            /Holodomor victim.

  3. Obama isn’t opening up relations with Cuba because he wants to make Cuba more like the USA. He wants to make the USA more like Cuba.

    1. And you have to admit, he’s done a hell of a job at doing just that over the past 6 years. No one can say that the guy doesn’t get stuff done.

      1. We’re a country of 315,000,000, and if enough of us have been pacified to allow this sort of shit, I fear we’re in genuine trouble.

        1. Long form, source unknown:

          The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president.

          The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince.

          The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president.

          1. Future leftist presidents, if any are elected, will not enjoy the type of teflon coating that Obama was afforded.

            Obama was the first black president, and so he could get away with anything. The Democrats are not going to be able to do this again, because any president that behaves like Obama will quickly be reigned in. They can try ‘first woman president’, on and on and so on, but it’s not going to work nearly as well. The novelty will long have worn off and the people’s patience will be gone.

            1. I hope Hyperion is right.

            2. Hyperion, the teflon coating is already transferring to Hillary

            3. Hyperion, the teflon coating is already transferring to Hillary

          2. Cleansing America of progtards will help a lot.

          3. “Who is the greater fool? The fool, or the electorate that puts him in office?

        2. We’re a country of 315,000,000, and if enough of us have been pacified to allow this sort of shit, I fear we’re in genuine trouble.

          Let’s give Obama another chance to prove us wrong by re-electing Hillary for the third time.

  4. When Cuba finally gets to replace its photogenic gas-guzzling 1950s station wagons with boring, energy-efficient Toyotas, the image may be less jarring, though no less uplifting, than the sight of a Cuban teenager texting obliviously on her mobile device while walking down Paseo del Prado.

    THAT’S NOT WHAT CUBA IS! CUBA IS THE OLD CARS AND THE OLD INTERNET AND CIGARS AND DOMINOES AND BASEBALL AND CASTRO’S BEARD! I AM AN AMERICAN LIBERAL, AND NOTHING SHOULD EVER CHANGE!

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  6. It sickens me to my core when some braindead, clueless pinko mentions Cuba positively during an argument over something stateside. There’s nothing cute, adorable, interesting, or praiseworthy about a hellishly backwards, socially stunted, developmentally static, thoroughly and brokenly primitive, culturally and economically retarded, totalitarian shithole like Cuba.

    Its existence is a gigantic fucking travesty. Universal healthcare and education? Are these degenerates all clinically retarded?

    If I were pressed to classify a single, coherent umbrella of ideology as the mortal world’s equivalent of Satan’s purest, darkest, sharpest, most ruinous evil, it would be socialism, and communism would be its crown.

    1. Are these degenerates all clinically retarded?

      Yes.

    2. you forget that with statists, it is never the ideology that is at fault, only those overseeing it. They trumpet education and health care because intellectual honesty would require them to call Cuba a failed state, to call any place run that way a failure. And that is something they simply cannot do.

      1. If only someone of purer quality were to administer their Satanic fairytale, it would surely triumph, right?

        Communists making me sick.

        1. they keep electing people who push the same mantra as if different results will accrue with the “right” people. I’m not disagree with you; I’m just pointing out that for people to admit that everything they believe in is wrong is a huge step.

          1. I know you weren’t. But communists inspire my hatred viciously.

            It must be hard to admit to yourself that you’re a proponent of history’s most evil belief system.

            1. They don’t admit to what they are. Why do you think they call themselves progressives now? They can’t admit to what they are because it’s too evil. Who wants to be thought of as a political system that murdered tens of millions in the 20th century?

              1. Unwitting harbingers of evil aren’t as hazardous to civilization as the deliberately tyrannical hellspawn that aim for public office.

            2. I can only hope that enough people come to understand that the progs will only go away when WE make it happen. Remember progressives have no souls. So anything you do to them is ok.

          2. “[…]I’m just pointing out that for people to admit that everything they believe in is wrong is a huge step.”

            And commie-kid shows up here on a regular basis to remind us that such bull-headed retards live among us.

            1. Look, this capitalist system doesn’t work for me because I don’t make any effort at all. But that’s not my fault, it’s yours. Now hand over your … uhh, I mean my stuff!

              /progtards

    3. That depends. Somalia had beautiful beaches when I was there. No plastic or paper trash anywhere. However, their deep-dish pizza was another story.

    4. There’s nothing cute, adorable, interesting, or praiseworthy about a hellishly backwards, socially stunted, developmentally static, thoroughly and brokenly primitive, culturally and economically retarded, totalitarian shithole like Cuba.

      Oh, such shitholes make great vacation spots; people call them “quaint”. It’s why European vacations are so popular too.

  7. But at least they have equal access to a lack of toilet paper! Take that free marketeers!

    1. In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread. — Anatole France

  8. An island ruled by a god cannot fail- and IF there mayhaps be some minor kerfuffle about this’n that then blame that on the anti-socialist demons who live in alleys of the impoverished. The pupils of the ultra-rich are rarely wrong.

    1. All we need to do now is find a god…

  9. On topic: BitMesh has created a working prototype of its ‘Uber for ISPs’. With a Raspberry Pi set up as a server, you can let people use your bandwidth for Bitcoins.

    http://cointelegraph.com/news/…..-prototype

    https://www.bitmesh.network/

    This is how we’ll defeat Net Neutrality and other regulations like it.

    1. That’s good stuff. Unfortunately for me, I am on a satellite connection limited to 15Gb/month download and even less upload. But it is the future; much like Disney and other copyright holders will eventually fence themselves in and the rest of the world will pass them by, so too will the governments of the world wall off some sterile internet so much that no one else wants to use it.

      1. The government will still control the backbone of communications through the ISPs, who they will force to do their evil bidding.

        Eventually, the only tactic they will have left is to start blacking out the internet and that will create a backlash that they cannot endure.

        1. The Regulatory State is more complicated than that. ISPs are players and their feedback is considered. The government won’t break its allies. If innovation threatens them in such a way that government regulation becomes unbearable, they will lighten the regulatory load.

          Example: Canada’s (EVIL FUCKING POS) agency called the CRTC regulates ‘CanCon’ (Canadian Content). These evil horrible laws make our television suck. This was okay for everyone until NetFlix and the internet showed up to give people a choice. They’re leaving. The Old Industry could not live with CanCon and NetFlix. NF cannot be banned for political reasons. So last month or so the CRTC severely truncated CanCon regulations. They’re still their but less so than in a long time. We’re winning.

        2. The government can’t ban VPNs, and VPNs can also provide an impromptu mesh network which the government can’t track.

        3. It won’t matter when obama shuts down all our grid power production. You will experience a growing frequency or ogling blackouts, blowouts, and eventually rationed usage of the grid. Once coal is comp,steely shut down I suspect the progs will turn against hydroelectric power.

      2. I bet that people in Cuba would love them some of that stuff.

    2. Yes, and when people serve up illegal content over your connection, you’ll have your ass dragged into court. That is if your ISP doesn’t just cancel your service for TOS violations.

  10. I had no idea things were that bad in Cuba. Windows ME? Oh, the humanity!

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  13. Can’t a communist that isn’t actually a communist..
    Favoring the politically connected is not in accord with definition of communism. And it cant be called universal if it is not in fact actually universal.

    Also, I thought communism was the product of capitalism..The last time I looked, Cuba wasn’t very capitalistic in historical terms. They have to wait for their dictatorship to be taken over by capitalism before communism will be a functional outcome as a proper definition of the countries socioeconopolitical system .

    1. Favoring the politically connected is not in accord with definition of communism.

      It is entirely in accord with the definition of communism: the elimination of money doesn’t eliminate scarcity, so the currency that replaces money is political connections.

  14. Supporters of the five-decade communist rule of the brothers Castro like to praise the island nation’s universal education and access to health care

    Yes, “equal access” to hospitals that are chronically short of basic supplies. Yay, communism!

    -jcr

    1. You misspelled “dictatorship”, jcr…

  15. “Also, I thought communism was the product of capitalism.”

    That was the theory, but it has never happened that way. It’s been forced on largely agricultural populations nearly everywhere.
    People who live in capitalist societies are dumb enough to buy socialist bullshit, but none have yet been stupid enough to buy communism.

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