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Cuba, Connected?

Mon 24 Jan, 2011 // Firstnumber Team
Cuban internet

Up until now, Cuba has relied upon extremely slow satellite linking for internet access.  The latter is a somewhat rare phenomenon in the communist country, where only 14% of citizens have the privilege of online connectivity. Even this small percentage is predominantly limited to government offices, universities and tourist accommodation.

In the age of global online communications, Cuba, along with other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, has been excluded from the near ubiquity of internet access. Partly through a long-standing embargo imposed upon the country by the USA, but also as a result of the firm grip on national communications and access to information exerted by the Cuban government.

The latter is slowly loosening its grasp on the day-to-day lives of many Cubans; a ban on mobile phones and PC's was recently lifted, allowing for a more pronounced exposure to non-state affiliated news and information channels.

Such a state of optimism is reinforced by near arrival of a fibre-optic cable laid up to 5,800 metres below sea level, and paid for by the country's closest ally Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. The underwater cable will reach the eastern coast of Cuba by February 8th. It is believed that the introduction of fibre-optic broadband will accelerate the speed of Cuban connectivity to 3,000 times its current capabilities.

Although the updated broadband connectivity will be highly welcomed by many in the country, some remain pessimistic about any real changes. The daily communist newspaper Granma believes the modifications will provide better broadband, but will not broaden its availability. It is thought that the benefits of the high speed connection will be felt almost exclusively by those who already have internet access in the country; largely tourists and government officials.

According to one scientist in Havana, Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, it is unlikely that the authorities will allow such a widespread release of previously censored information. He believes that such censorship will continue, perhaps in a less rigorous manner, but present nonetheless.

At a time when Cuba is gradually relinquishing state control in general – most notably with the mass cuts in public sector employees in order to afford a greater level of private enterprise – the arrival of faster broadband, and the opportunity for many to gain previously unavailable access to the world wide web will no doubt be a welcome addition to the nation. Whether such hopes will be addressed is a highly contentious matter.

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