Friday, June 26, 2009

Cuba lags region in telecoms, Internet access

Cuba lags region in telecoms, Internet access
By Marc Frank - Thu Jun 25, 2009 10:49PM EDT
HAVANA (Reuters) -

Communist Cuba may boast a doctor on every block and schools for all its
children, but when it comes to telephones, computers and the Internet it
lags behind other countries in the hemisphere, a government report
showed on Thursday.

The National Statistics Office released 2008 telecommunications data
showing there were 1.4 million telephones, fixed and mobile, in the
country of 11.2 million inhabitants.

This gave a total density of 12.6 telephones per 100 inhabitants, the
lowest in the region, according to the United Nations International
Telecommunications Union.

Computers were also scarce at just 630,000 and most were believed to be
in government offices, health facilities and schools.

The report said 13 percent of Cuba's population had Internet access, but
in most cases this was to a government Intranet. No data was available
for access to the worldwide web, but diplomats and residents say it is
severely restricted.

In Jamaica, Internet access was 53.27 per 100 inhabitants, the Dominican
Republic 25.87 percent and in Haiti 10.42 percent, the ITU reported.

"I would love one day to have a telephone, computer and Internet at
home, but I see little prospects for now," said 23-year-old Yenisey
Peraza, a Cuban dancer who recently bought a cellphone for emergencies.

In a reform introduced by President Raul Castro after he took over from
his ailing brother, Fidel, in February last year, Cubans were given
permission to freely buy and use cellphones.

But they can only pay for them in hard currency equivalent convertible
pesos, which are not available to all Cubans. The government pegs the
Cuban convertible currency (CUC) at $1.08.


In a move in April easing some aspects of Washington's 47-year-old
embargo against Cuba, President Barack Obama allowed U.S.
telecommunications firms to offer services in Cuba as part of a strategy
to try to increase "people to people" contact.

The White House said in April that U.S. telecoms companies would be
allowed to set up fiber-optic cable and satellite links with Cuba, start
roaming service agreements and permit U.S. residents to pay for
telecoms, satellite radio and television services provided to Cubans.

While Cuba's leaders welcomed the move as a step in the right direction,
they reiterated their demand that Washington completely lift the
embargo, suggesting the new telecoms overtures would not prosper.

Cuba's failure to embrace modern telecoms is a major complaint among
citizens under 50 years old, who cite it as one of the reasons they seek
to migrate abroad.

"There is very little Internet access, and what there is the government
controls. Even having a telephone is difficult, and one can't even dream
of having a computer or Internet," said Denis Ferrer, a young restaurant

The Cuban state monopolizes communications and dominates the economy
where the average government wage is around 420 domestic pesos, or
around 18 convertible pesos ($20), a month.

A cellular telephone line costs 30 CUCs and the cheapest cellular phone
is priced at 60 CUCs. A minute's use of a cell phone calling out or
receiving averages half a CUC, or more than half a day's state wages,
while a 160 character text message costs 0.16 CUC to send.

About 60 percent of Cuba's population has some access to convertible
pesos through money sent to them by relatives abroad, tourism tips,
state bonuses, or the black market.

Cuban officials blame the U.S. trade embargo against the island for the
country's poor communications.

They insist the data for individual use and ownership is misleading as
priority is given to social use of telecoms technology, from health and
education, to government-operated computer clubs in every municipality.

Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Pascal Fletcher
and Chris Wilson)

Cuba lags region in telecoms, Internet access by Reuters: Yahoo! Tech
(26 June 2009)

No comments: