Cuba Allows Home Internet in Small Experiment
December 29, 2016 11:41 PM
Downtown Havana resident Margarita Marquez says she received a special
Christmas gift this year: web access at home, a rarity in a country with
one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world.
Marquez, a 67-year-old retired university professor, was among those
selected by the government two weeks ago to participate in a pilot
project bringing the web into the homes of 2,000 inhabitants of the
historic center of the island's capital.
Most of Communist-ruled Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants have access to
internet only at Wi-Fi hotspots, and only then if they can afford the
$1.50 hourly tariff that represents around 5 percent of the average
monthly state salary.
About 5 percent of Cubans are estimated to enjoy internet at home, which
requires government permission. This is usually granted mainly to
academics, doctors and intellectuals.
A dream come true, until March
"It's like a dream come true," said Marquez, who lives with her sister
in a second-story flat in a colonial-era building. "To be in touch with
the outside world is important."
Her 80-year-old sister, Leonor Franco, said the news that they had been
selected came as a surprise and she was excited to be surfing the web
for the first time.
"I had never had any experience of internet," she said, seated in front
of a laptop she has owned for two years without web access, searching
for videos of her favorite singers on YouTube.
She said she wanted to learn how to surf the web properly so she could
make the most of the experiment, and for as long as the government
provided free internet access.
"From March we will have to start paying and we don't know if we will be
able to continue. So at least we are going to enjoy January and
February," she said.
Cost drops but still high
While the cost of internet has dropped in recent years, it is still
prohibitive for most Cubans.
Cuba says it has been slow to develop network infrastructure because of
high costs in part because of the U.S. trade embargo. Critics say the
real reason is fear of losing control.
Before Wi-Fi signals became available last year, broadband internet
access had been limited largely to desktops at state internet parlors
and pricy hotels.
Carolina Gutierrez (center left), 17, and Neuil Valdez, 18, use mobile
phones to connect to the internet at a hotspot in downtown Havana, Cuba,
Dec. 12, 2016.
However, the government has said it wants to ensure everyone has access
and has installed 237 Wi-Fi hotspots so far. In September, it announced
it would install Wi-Fi along Havana's picturesque seafront boulevard,
"There are many places now where you can go and sit and connect along
the Malecon," said Eliecer Samada as he sat on the stone wall lining the
boulevard, checking social media on his phone. "We're happy with this."
Source: Cuba Allows Home Internet in Small Experiment -