Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“Social Media and the ‘Weekly Packet’, That’s the Game Plan in Cuba

"Social Media and the 'Weekly Packet', That's the Game Plan in Cuba /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 September 2016 — Experts who
participated in the first day of the Cuba Internet Freedom Forum, a
two-day conference in Miami starting on Monday, agreed on the importance
of further progress in improving access to the World Wide Web on the
island, highlighting the crucial crucial played by alternatives such as
the Weekly Packet, and criticizing the high price of internet service
for the majority of people. The event, organized by the US Office of
Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), was attended by over 300 people including about
100 specialists in various areas.

Opening the forum was John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board
of Governors, a US government agency responsible for Radio and TV Marti
and the Voice of America.

Lansing referred to the impact increased communications and the use of
networks is having on the island, and the turning point the country is
now experiencing. The specialist noted the interest of the US
Administration in promoting internet use on the island. With a
documentary about the difficulties of accessing the internet in the
country, the campaign #InternetParaTodos (Internet For Everyone) was
launched, a effort of OCB to demand the right to free access and to
promote the search for alternatives to increase connectivity.

The film presented different realities within the country, such as
off-line connections, a system that permits the networking between 1,000
and 10,000 people to exchange information and files.

"Social Media and the Weekly Packet, that's the game plan in Cuba," said
one of the participants in the documentary, referring to the ability of
these tools to break down the official bias over information with these
two tools, so far the most popular in a country where communications are
controlled by the State.

One of the objectives of the campaign is the empowerment of citizens,
for whom labels as #LoQuePasaEnMiBarrio (What Happens In My
Neighborhood) and #InternetParaTodos (Internet for Everyone) were launched.

As part of the presentations, the researcher Anne Nelson from Columbia
University, presented the report Cuba's Digital Landscape, in which she
outlined an overview on internet use on the island since 2008, when
access to computers began to grow.

The specialist stressed the importance of the fact that it is China that
has invested the most in the country's communications infrastructure.
"Whoever builds the basic communications infrastructure will influence
its future," said the academic, who said the United States should pay
particular attention to this issue.

"Cuban infrastructure right now is like what the US had in 2006. In many
places it is only 2G and in the most privileged the technology is 3G, so
the speed is very slow and the cost for ordinary Cubans is prohibitive,"
she said.

Nelson highlighted the role of US companies in the sector and the
proposals that have been made with the aim of achieving open access to
internet for Cubans. "We are living a turning point in the history of
the Caribbean. We have to be part of that," she said.

In another presentation by Mai Truong, director of the Freedom House
program, censorship of the internet and its evolution was also analyzed.

Cuba is among the worst five countries in terms of internet censorship,
despite a increase of 7 percentage points in access in the last five
years. Truong said among the main obstacles for Cubans to access the
internet is price; it costs about 10% of the average monthly salary for
one hour at the government-enabled wifi zones, 2 CUC (about $2 US) an hour.

Another major obstacle is the government control over the content and
the lack of regulations that protect freedom of expression in cyberspace.

One third of the world's population lives in countries where internet
freedom is restricted, and over the last five years it has worsened.

However, the Weekly Packet is an offline source that exposes islanders
to the global reality as shown by its growing presence on mobile devices
and personal computers.

"The Cuban government is at a crossroads between giving more Internet
access to its citizens or control such access as does China," Truong

Truong gave the example of countries like Myanmar, which had a
communications sector as depressed as Cuba's is, but decided to lift the
policy of censorship and has since made great strides in the area of

The event was attended by the mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado. Speaking
to 14ymedio he explained, "The meeting is a clear message of what we
want for Cuba."

According to Regalado, Cubans "do not want direct travel, but freedom of
information." The mayor explained that when refugees from the island
come to the United States the first thing they look for is a cellphone
to communicate. He said it is "curious" that some of these people after
returning to the island "lose their dignity and their money."

For the director of Radio and Television Martí, Mary (Malule) Gonzalez,
the event has been a success. "All the guests from Cuba have come to us
and the public has responded in an exceptional way."

Source: "Social Media and the 'Weekly Packet', That's the Game Plan in
Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba -
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