Cuba’s Internet: It’s Bad, But It Might Get Better
By SANTIAGO WILLS
Aug. 8, 2013
There’s no use in trying to watch a YouTube video, and chances are you
won’t be able to find that cute Cuban you just met on Facebook or
Twitter, much less Skype with her or send her an email while on the
island of Cuba.
The country, despite recent advances, is still a dark hole in matters
relating to web connectivity. The country consistently ranks as the
least connected in the Western Hemisphere and there are a myriad of
problems that prevent the population from participating in the World
The country has, however, been seeing some advances in the past few
years. Here’s what clearly still needs work, and what is slowly getting
The Bad News
Let’s start with the constant problems that the island’s citizens face
when confronting the possibility of using services such as Skype,
YouTube, Facebook, etc.: Internet access is expensive and scarce, and
speeds are painfully, excruciatingly slow.
On a recent visit to Havana, rates for an hour of unlimited web access
in a cyber café ranged from $6 to $10, an outrageous price when you take
into account that the average salary is around $20 a month.
Cuba has 0.04 fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants,
according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the
U.N.’s agency that analyzes and promotes the development of information
and communication technologies. The figure is six times smaller than
that of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, four times smaller than Haiti, and is
comparable only to Sudan and a handful of other African nations.
Only politicians, certain journalists, and medical students can legally
access the web from their homes. A few people have illegal access points
that they often profit from by selling the service on the black market.
That means that regular, law-abiding Cubans can only connect through the
expensive cyber cafés I mentioned above. It also takes a really long
time to load most. For example, Facebook or Nytimes.com takes on average
about a minute or two, which means that you end up being shortchanged
for your paid time.
More worryingly, access is not really unlimited. The government still
blocks several websites and the embargo prevents Cubans from using
services such as Google Maps and Google Apps. Blogs from opposition
figures like Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Dimas Castellanos
can’t be accessed on the island. In fact, your web connection tends to
get even slower after you try to access these sites. Other blocked pages
include Revolico, a Cuban version of Craigslist, and Univision.com. (All
other news outlets I tried were available.) And in case you’re
wondering, porn is totally banned. Trying to access a porn site can lead
to the cancellation of web access points.
All of these factors have contributed to the island’s disparaging record
and poor scores in global analyses of internet freedom. In 2012, Cuba
ranked second to last behind Iran as the country with the least web
freedom in the world, according to a global survey published by Freedom
House, an international watchdog that monitors net access and
restrictions in more than 40 countries.
The Good News (Perhaps)
Though they may not be momentous, there are a couple of changes that
could signal a transformation for the country’s internet framework.
In the past 10 years, the percentage of Cubans using the internet has
risen from 3.77 percent to 25.64 percent, according to ITU estimates.
In January, Etecsa, the state-controlled telecommunications company,
announced that it would start using a fiber-optic submarine cable
connecting Cuba and Venezuela to provide increased internet speed and
On June 4, the Cuban government also opened 118 new cheaper access
points throughout the island. The number is certainly small, but it’s a
welcome beginning for many Cubans. Etecsa has said that they will lower
prices and offer mobile access and connections at people’s homes by the
end of 2014.
Given recent history, skepticism is warranted, but so is hope that more
access will be available to Cuba’s society.
Source: “The Internet in Cuba: Facts and Myths About Web Access – ABC