Cuba, one of the Western Hemisphere’s least-wired countries, is poised to expand access to the Internet by introducing some three dozen Wi-Fi hot spots around the island and reducing the steep fees.
Cuba, one of the Western Hemisphere’s least-wired countries, is poised to expand access to the Internet by introducing about three dozen Wi-Fi hot spots around the island and reducing the steep fees that Cubans pay to spend time online.
The move, announced in Juventud Rebelde, an official newspaper aimed at the island’s youth, came amid new pressures to increase Internet access as the nation edges toward normalizing diplomatic relations with the United States.
Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York who has studied social media and the Internet in Cuba, said the decision could mark a “turning point.”
“Their model was, ‘Nobody gets Internet,’ ” he said in a telephone interview. “Now their model is, ‘We’re going to bring prices down and expand access, but we are going to do it as a sovereign decision and at our own speed.’ ”
Cuba’s Internet isolation is not the result of the United States’ five-decade economic embargo, Mr. Henken said, but President Obama’s announcement last December that he would restore diplomatic relations removed a pretext for fencing off the web.
The tentative steps toward a less restrictive online future could also provide justification for Mr. Obama’s decision, which has come under criticism from Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, among others.
“Obama can say, six months later, ‘I have a piece of fruit in my hands. What have you got, after 50 years?’ ” Mr. Henken said.
Cuba’s poor Internet access is a grievance increasingly shared across political lines, by entrepreneurs and computer programmers as well as journalists and ordinary citizens who want to communicate with relatives overseas.
It is a source of frustration for young people, a growing number of whom — especially in Havana — own a smartphone that they cannot use to get online. The city’s one hot spot — at the workshop of the artist Kcho — is constantly packed.
“Young people don’t talk about politics,” said Hector, 25, an information systems manager in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city. “What they are most worried about is being able to connect to the Internet.”
Over the past two years, the government has opened dozens of Internet cafes and introduced email service for the island’s million or so cellphone users. It signaled its willingness to expand connectivity this month in a leaked report that argued that lack of Internet access was holding back the economy. The report outlined plans to get broadband — albeit slow broadband — to half of Cuban homes by 2020.
By July, the state-run telecommunications company, Etecsa, will open 35 hot spots, mainly in parks and boulevards of cities, the company’s spokesman told Juventud Rebelde. Connection will cost just over $2 per hour, half of what it currently costs in an Internet cafe.
Hector, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of attracting the authorities’ attention, said that even at the reduced price he would spend little time at Santiago’s new hot spot.
“I can go there from time to time, but it’s a luxury,” he said, adding, “I also have to eat and pay rent.”
The decision to increase Internet connectivity — however slightly — comes as American technology companies show growing interest in making their services available and helping get more Cubans online.
Google executives have visited Cuba twice this year, meeting with government officials as well as web developers, bloggers and journalists. According to news reports, they have proposed helping the Castro government increase connectivity. Twitter has approached the government about providing Cubans with the ability to make posts by text message — a service available in many countries.
New York times | By VICTORIA BURNETT