Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 16th 2014 Contents B33
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
It s a month since Cuba s government started
permitting people to have e-mail on their mobile
phones but the queues to sign up for the service
are still enormous.
In one Havana street, some waited in the blazing
sun for seven hours outside the door of the telecoms
"It s cheaper than phone calls," Ana explains of
the new service she is queuing for. Like many Cubans,
she has family living abroad and wants to keep in
But Cubans are still far from fully "connected."
The new phone service is limited to e-mail and does
not include the Internet.
Cuba s Comamunist government has always main-
tained tight control of information. All local media
are state-owned and no foreign newspapers are sold
on the island.
The same has been true of the Internet although
restrictions were also due to an expensive link-up
via satellite, with limited capacity.
Currently, some government officials and foreign
residents are among the select few permitted full
access at home and work.
Doctors and some academics have a limited intranet
service that grants them a few hours e-mail time a
month as well as information specific to their pro-
Even that comes via a screeching dial-up modem:
you can usually make coffee in the time it takes to
open an e-mail.
But three years ago, a high-speed fibre-optic cable
arrived in eastern Cuba courtesy of Venezuela, and
islanders began to dream of getting connected.
There are now some 300 public internet-access
centres across the country, but they are expensive:
one hour costs the equivalent of a week s wage for
a state worker.
Still, some people are clearly finding the money---
from private-sector jobs, the shadow economy, or
"I use e-mail, not the Internet, because that s more
expensive," explains student Yan Roja, as he logs on
at one of the new centres.
E-mail costs the equivalent of US$2.50 an hour;
the Internet is US$4.50.
"This is much better than at my university, though.
There s only intranet there and the keyboard was
faded. This one s new, and it s much faster," Yan says.
"I only use it for e-mail. I have to focus on what s
most urgent," Sergio agrees, at a nearby terminal.
"I think the charge is excessive when people have
so little," he says, explaining that he would read the
news and books online if access were cheaper.
Cuba has clearly been weighing up the need to
play technological catch-up against the potential
political danger of widespread access to the Inter-
The authorities concerns were underlined this
month when details of a secretive US government
ZunZuneo created a local Twitter service for Cuba,
allegedly aimed at prompting anti-government activ-
ity.Even so, Cuban officials say that Internet services
will be expanded "as soon as possible", arguing that
delays are due to a lack of funding, not political will.
"The proof is the e mail service we ve opened for
phones, and there ll be new services with the Internet,"
Carlos Porto from the communications ministry told
the BBC, though he would not be pushed on a date.
Until then, Cubans are doing what they have always
done: getting round the restrictions.
Vivian---not her real name---pays US$20 a month
for ten hours online, on the black market. That gets
her the dial-up account details of an unknown foreign
student on the island.
"Sometimes it s busy when I try to log on which
means someone else is using it," Vivian explains,
starting up the bootleg account in her living room.
She needs e-mail to run her business, renting out
private rooms to tourists. Even then, her time online
is so limited that her brother in the US manages all
the queries and only forwards Vivian the final results.
"It s sad because I d like to search for information
or download books online but it s very, very slow,"
she says. Still, she is grateful she at least has e-mail
"The need is there, so there will always be interest
in getting the service,"---even illegally---Vivian reasons.
Cubans hungry for
time on her
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