Tag Archives: Internet in Cuba

Cuba uses Twitter to denounce a Miami conference on internet freedom as an act of ‘subversion’


The Castro regime uses Twitter to denounce as “subversive” the right of the Cuban people to also have access to the Internet

The Miami Herald

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States, said that an upcoming conference in Miami on internet use on the island seeks to promote internal subversion.

“The illegal use of radio and television against Cuba is not enough for them, they insist on the use of the internet as a weapon of subversion,” Vidal wrote in her Twitter account Thursday.

Her comment was in reaction to an article published by the government-run Cubadebate criticizing the Cuba Internet Freedom conference to be held in Miami Sept. 12-13, which is being organized by the U.S.-funded Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).

Cubadebate characterized the event as “the first conference on internet use in Cuba, as part of subversion programs by the U.S. government against the island that have been maintained during the administration of Barack Obama.”

The article went on to say that,“since [former president] George W. Bush activated the Law for Democracy in Cuba, which empowers the U.S. Congress to allocate $20 million a year for programs to promote regime change in Cuba, has spent $284 million over the past two decades for this purpose.”

The Cuba Internet Freedom conference is part of Social Media Week taking place in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.

Why even Google can’t connect Cuba

Finally, an article by someone who really knows what he is talking about! 


Computerworld, by Mike Elgan

Reports say Google intends to help wire Cuba and bring the island into the 21st century. But that’s not going to happen.
When President Obama said in Havana last month that Google would be working to improve Internet access in Cuba, I wondered what Google might do in Cuba that other companies could not.

Today, Cuba is an Internet desert where only 5% of trusted elites are allowed to have (slow dial-up) Internet connections at home, and a paltry 400,000 people access the Internet through sidewalk Wi-Fi hotspots. These hotspots have existed for only a year or so. Also, some 2.5 million Cubans have government-created email accounts, but no Web access.

I spent a month in Cuba until last week, and I was there when the president spoke. I’m here to report that those government Wi-Fi hotspots are rare, slow and expensive. While in Cuba, my wife, son and I spent about $300 on Wi-Fi. In a country where the average wage ranges from $15 to $30 per month, connecting is a massive financial burden available only to a lucky minority with private businesses or generous relatives in Miami.

And this is why I think the possibilities of what Google might accomplish in Cuba are misunderstood.

It’s not as if Cuba would have ubiquitous, affordable and fast Internet access if it just had the money or expertise to make it happen. The problem is that Cuba is a totalitarian Communist dictatorship.

The outrageous price charged for Wi-Fi in Cuba can’t possibly reflect the cost of providing the service. The price is really a way to restrict greater freedom of information to those who benefit from the Cuban system.

The strange Wi-Fi card system is also a tool of political control. In order to buy a card, you have to show your ID, and your information is entered into the system. Everything done online using a specific Wi-Fi card is associated with a specific person.

The Cuban government allows people to run privately owned small hotels, called casas particulares, and small home restaurants, called paladares. The owners of these small businesses would love to provide their guests with Wi-Fi, but the Cuban government doesn’t allow it. Nor does it allow state-owned restaurants, bars and cafes to provide Wi-Fi.

Google is connected to the global Internet through satellite networks. Cuba is connected to the Internet by an undersea fiber-optic cable that runs between the island and Venezuela. The cable was completed in 2011, and it existed as a “darknet” connection for two years before suddenly going online in 2013.

So here’s the problem with Google as the solution: The Cuban government uses high prices and draconian laws to prevent the majority of Cubans from having any access to the Internet at all. The government actively prevents access as a matter of policy. It’s not a technical problem. It’s a political one.

In other words, Cuba doesn’t need Google to provide hotspots. If the Cuban government allowed hotspots, Cubans would provide them.

Continue reading Why even Google can’t connect Cuba

Cuba’s Only Email Service Has Been Mysteriously Shut Down



The Cuban government has shut down the island’s only official email service provider and it’s not clear when it’ll come back.

The Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced in an official note Wednesday that it has had to “completely stop email services” in the country.

As is often the case in Cuba, the communist government hasn’t given an official reason for the shutdown. Service on the island has been spotty for more than a week, according to Jose Luis Martinez, communications director at the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, who is in regular communication with people on the island. Earlier this week, ETECSA said that the “infrastructure that supports the accounts has had a technical failure that affects the sending and receiving of emails.”

While there’s no law that stops Cubans from using Gmail or any other email service provider, the shutdown of all official email accounts, which are called Nauta accounts, will have huge ramifications for how people communicate on the island.

There is very little wifi access in Cuba and no mobile internet service for Cubans whatsoever, but standard cell phone service is pretty widespread. The Cuban government allows its citizens to send and receive text-based emails on mobile phones using standard cell signal and Nauta accounts. As a result, Nauta emails are how a lot of business gets done on the island, and it’s how a lot of people communicate with those overseas while they’re on the go.The message that's bouncing back if you try to email a Nauta email account.

The message that’s bouncing back if you try to email a Nauta email account.

“It’s the only email you’re allowed to have on your phone,” Martinez told me.

Martinez says he’s been trying to email people on the island and has had the emails bounced back to him with this message: “This message has not yet been delivered. It will will keep trying to be delivered.”

“There’s no way to understand what’s going on—if it’s a hack, if it’s a technical issue because ETECSA is a very opaque organization,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, a lot of things in Cuba are very obsolete and outdated and clunky.”

It’s entirely possible the shutdown only lasts a couple days, but even if that’s the case, it underscores the country’s extremely shaky telecommunications infrastructure. Cuban leader Raul Castro says he wants to open the island up, but it has been very slow to get widespread internet service. At the moment, the country relies on a handful of wireless hotspots that are expensive, slow, and surveilled. Companies such as Verizon have launched wireless data service for American travelers to the island, but there’s no indication from the government that the Cuban people are going to have better internet access anytime soon.

Research shows Cuba’s Internet issues

 A map showing submarine Internet cables in and around Cuba. Image used courtesy of submarinecablemap.com.

A map showing submarine Internet cables in and around Cuba. Image used courtesy of submarinecablemap.com.


In December 2014, President Barack Obama made history by reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, which included loosening its economic embargoes. Two months later, American companies like Netflix and Airbnb announced plans to expand into the once-banned island.

“Our first reaction was: ‘Really?'” said Northwestern Engineering’s Fabián E. Bustamante. “As a business model, Netflix and Airbnb rely on most people having Internet access. That’s not quite the case in Cuba, so it really didn’t seem to make much sense.”

Wanting to see if these business ideas were feasible, Bustamante, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, and his graduate student Zachary Bischof decided to measure Cuba’s Internet performance. They found that Cuba’s Internet connection to the rest of the world was perhaps even worse than they expected.

Bischof presented their findings October 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2015 Internet Measurement Conference in Tokyo.

Cuba’s history with computing and Internet is a complicated one. Its citizens were not even allowed to own a personal computer until 2008. In February 2011, Cuba completed its first undersea fiber-optic cable with a landing in Venezuela, but the cable was not even activated until two years later. Today, about 25 percent of the population is able to get online and just five percent of the population has home Internet.

“If you’re trying to connect anywhere, you either have to connect through these marine cables or up to the satellite,” Bustamante said. “If you go up to the satellite, it would take significantly longer.”

“For one, it’s much farther to travel,” Bischof added. “And the trip is on a very interference-rich environment, which include cosmic rays.”
Continue reading Research shows Cuba’s Internet issues

Cuba’s really terrible internet, explained

The internet in Cuba is so bad that Cubans had to invent their own.

A few years ago, some computer gamers based in Havana strung a small web of ethernet cables from house to house so they could play video games together. The network continued to grow quietly, and today it’s called StreetNet: a bootleg internet for Havana with more than 10,000 users. It was an innovation forged by necessity in a country where only 5 percent of citizens have access to the uncensored internet. Watch the video to learn why Cuba’s internet is stuck in 1995.

Internet desert

Cuba has some of the worst internet access in the world, with just 5 percent of Cubans able to access the uncensored web.

Since the communist revolution of 1959, the Castro regime has enforced a strict ban on all forms of information flow that challenge official policy and history. Enforcing such censorship has been relatively easy for an island nation that has a monopoly over all media outlets. But when the internet arrived in the ’90s, it complicated matters for the Castros.


Cuba’s first 64KB/s internet connection came to life in 1996, making it one of the first countries to connect in the Caribbean region. Cuban technicians were resourceful, educated, and motivated to connect the country, which led to a surge in initial infrastructure development.

That surge soon stalled as the government realized the ramifications of allowing such a decentralized and uncontrollable network into the lives of the Cuban people. “The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled,” warned Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés in 2007, summing up the regime’s policy toward technology over the previous decade.

Getting online in Cuba

Connecting to the web in Cuba has historically been a matter of money and power. Some government insiders have dial-up internet in their homes. But for the rest of population, getting online has meant paying around $9 for one hour of internet access in state-run internet cafes. This in a place where an average salary is just over $20 per month.

Alternative methods include poaching wireless internet from hotels, which can be done if one person gets his hands on the wifi password and shares it. Many hotels in Havana now have security guards whose responsibility consists of shooing away these internet parasites from the sidewalks and benches surrounding the hotels.
Baby steps

“Cuba is like a pressure cooker. Frustration builds from all the lack of basic freedoms, and eventually the regime has to let out a little steam to keep everyone happy,” says Jose Luis Martinez of Connect Cuba, an advocacy group based in Miami.
In July, the regime let out a little steam by installing 35 wifi hotspots throughout the island. Now, to connect, you can buy an access card for $2, which will give you one hour of access to the uncensored internet. These access cards are usually sold out, which has led to an informal street market where cards go for $3 or $4.

Is this an improvement? Perhaps. But 35 expensive hotspots for 11 million people is certainly not a significant step toward a freer internet. “Imagine if you told the island of Manhattan that they could only access the internet with 35 wifi hotspots. There would be riots in the street,” says Martinez. “This is not progress.”
The hotspots are located in tourist-dense downtown parks, not in places where typical Cubans spend their time. Martinez thinks the regime is creating the facade of progress to quell international criticism. “They are good at playing the international PR game, but this is still a very, very small step,” he says. “I’m not hopeful.”

Continue reading Cuba’s really terrible internet, explained

Cuba’s Internet: Censorship And High Costs Mean Web Access Will Remain Elusive For Most Cubans


International Business Times

Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, introduced a bill on the congressional floor titled the Cuba DATA Act. The bill encouraged U.S. telecommunication companies to set up shop in Cuba and was widely cheered by human rights activists and business leaders alike.
But not so fast.
Just because American companies have been given the green light by the U.S. government to do business in the country, experts say it’s unlikely Google or Verizon will be dropping any high-speed fiber-optic Internet cables on the island any time soon.
“This isn’t just one side, you also have to have a Cuban government that’s interested,” says Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Cuba Study Group. “What challenges will the Cuban government pose regarding censorship? It’s a complicated scenario.”
Bilbao says there are a number of complicating factors to delivering widespread Internet access to Cubans. First and foremost, though, he says the Cuban government may just simply not allow it. The government has historically held a tight grasp over the Internet, and that policy is unlikely to change.
Perhaps the second-largest challenge is that it will be enormously expensive to build the infrastructure. And with Cubans living on about $20 per month, it’s hard to envision a business model that would be profitable for a major U.S. company.
“Let’s say you wanted to offer residential Internet,” Bilbao says. “What’s the purchasing power of the average Cuban household? Can they afford to pay for a residential Internet connection?”
He adds, “If you want to set up an Internet infrastructure, you’d have to drop a fiber-optic cable 90 miles through the Caribbean or through the Bahamas and you’d have to create switching servers and stations inside Cuba.”
Ricardo Herrero, executive director of Cuba Now, agrees the costs would be incredibly high, but it’s the Cuban government that will present the largest hurdle for U.S. telecom companies.

Continue reading Cuba’s Internet: Censorship And High Costs Mean Web Access Will Remain Elusive For Most Cubans

The Only Internet Most Cubans Know Fits in a Pocket and Moves by Bus

Meet El Packete. OK, it’s a thumb drive. But to many residents of the Net’s lost island, it’s all they’ve got.
Last week I wrote about the dismal Internet access, or lack of it, in Cuba, where I recently visited. But due to a combination of resourcefulness and desperation, Cubans have managed a system whereby commercial content is easily available. By way of an informal but extraordinarily lucrative distribution chain — one guy told me the system generates $5 million in payments a month — anyone in Cuba who can pay can watch telenovelas, first-run Hollywood movies, brand-new episodes of Game of Thrones, and even search for a romantic partner. It’s called El Packete, and it arrives weekly in the form of thumb drives loaded with enormous digital files. Those drives make their way across the island from hand to hand, by bus, and by 1957 Chevy, their contents copied and the drive handed on.
In a sense, El Packete is a very slow high-capacity Internet access connection; someone (no one knows who) loads up those drives with online glitz and gets them to Cuban shores. As in the Hollywood system, there are distribution windows. If you can wait to watch your favorite show, you’ll pay less.
El Packete plays to Cuban strengths and needs: Cubans, several people told me, are great at sharing. And being paid to be part of the thumb-drive supply chain is a respectable job in an economy that is desperately short on employment opportunities.
So the reason for its popularity is no mystery. The real riddle is why this rogue system can operate under the tight governing regime. The Cuban government has to know that this underground operation impinges on its monopoly on information. The secret police calls people in all the time to find out what’s going on. But for some reason El Packete isn’t a problem, while actual Internet access is.
For a possible answer, consider what’s happening in another control-crazy country — China. The Asian giant unveiled an alarming “national security law” announcement earlier this month. As the New York Times reported, the new law doesn’t say much about “traditional security matters as military power, counterespionage or defending the nation’s borders.” Instead, it’s focused on centralizing and consolidating the power of the state. The real threat to the Chinese government is an organized, energetic civil society, influenced by Western nonprofits, that might undermine the survival of the Communist Party. And so the law calls for all of these organizations to be officially sponsored, registered and regulated, and for all foreign companies to essentially agree to be surveilled at all times.
What China wants is for its people to be commercially active — building an enormous, consuming middle class — but politically passive. That may well be the thinking of the current Cuban leadership as it implicitly allows El Packete to circulate.
True, access to telenovelas and HBO series might make the Cuban people long for the air conditioners and dishwashers they see in the backgrounds of the dramas on the screen. But it won’t make them get up from their chairs and do anything to change the country. And so the breathtaking inequality of Cuba can continue, changing only incrementally and only at the pace with which the Cuban government is comfortable.
Cuban hotels, all government-owned, are places that Cubans can now visit and for which they can work; the bellman carrying your bags can make twenty times more in a single night than his wife, a dentist, can make in a month. That’s because he is paid in the touristic currency (itself worth many times more than the ordinary Cuban peso) and gets tips, while his wife must work within the government-controlled system. Living completely outside that system is possible, but suspect; you’ll be called in for interrogation.
Encouraging passive consumption: that’s the model of El Packete and the robotic ideal of the Cuban citizen now facilitated by the current regime.
All of this came home for me when I interviewed a young Cuban documentarian, a woman who had gone briefly to Colombia for a graduate program and now feels her mission in life is to help her country. She was both soft-voiced and determined; she began to cry as she told me that she has realized that the lack of Internet access is not only a problem for her generation but also for the whole country, because Cubans cannot participate as citizens through the Web. She said that even though everyone told her that she was going to get in trouble she needed to make a movie to tell this story.
She did make that movie, she called it “Offline,” and she handed me a copy. It’s like El Packete, going in the other direction, and this time with meaningful content: I brought it back with me to the U.S. I hope you will watch it today.  BackChannel