Havana’s Unofficial Wi-Fi Zones

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — If a Cuban bureaucrat was given the task of collecting live snails, they would probably manage to escape before he was finished drawing up the resolutions and communiqués that regulate such an activity. This helps explain why citizens have much greater foresight than the bureaucracy does.

In 1993, Fidel Castro announced that the US dollar was being legalized and Cubans would have access to stores for diplomats. Without waiting for parliament to change the country’s laws, people went out to buy things, overpowering the custodians that sought to prevent their access to the shops.

A large number of self-employed people were already practicing their trades before the government authorized them to do so. The reforms merely legalized the status of hundreds of thousands of metal workers, carpenters, barbers, mechanics and food vendors.

Improvised Wi-Fi zones used by people who “steal” the signal from companies or institutions can be found in many places around Havana.

Now, Cuba’s phone company, ETECSA, is announcing that WiFi zones will be created in Cuba this year. It seems to be unaware that these already exist and have been used illegally by thousands of people, mostly the young, for a fairly long time.

In Havana, it is easy to spot Internet navigators, who tend to crowd around any office, hotel or institution with a Wi-Fi network. They take out their computers, mobile phones or tablets and cruise the web, comfortably seated on the sidewalk or while having a drink at a nearby cafeteria.

One of them even created a kind of homemade antenna to get better reception and sets it up every day in front of the hotel that provides him with an Internet connection. No one hides when trying to get a signal, as the use of Wi-Fi seems to be tolerated by the authorities.

Cuba’s phone company, ETECSA, charges US $ 4.50 for an hour of Internet use at cybercafés, but Wi-Fi zones ought to charge less, as they do not require a locale or State computers.

They would not be able to control the situation, at any rate, because Cuban hackers use a program to reveal the network password and pass it on to others. ETECSA’s high prices and limitations have united people in a common front against the company.

This kind of solidarity is also seen among people who work at institutions with Wi-Fi networks, who pass on the password to their friends. These pass it on to others and the number of “piggy-back” navigators grows exponentially, uncurbed by changes to the password.

The battle is one the authorities will not easily win. When it comes to the Internet, the entire population is against them, including the computer programmers tasked with implementing security measures to prevent access to networks by unauthorized persons.

The population’s anger seems justified: for a very long time, people were told there was no Internet because of the US blockade. Later, when a submarine fiber-optic cable connected Cuba to Venezuela, ETECSA announced the country lacked the needed infrastructure.

The government opened up a number of cyber-cafés across the country and set a nonsensical rate, US $ 4.50 per hour. This is the equivalent of a week’s salary when one is employed by the State, the same State that owns the phone company.

The company insists these prices are high because they need the capital to improve the country’s networks, but they don’t care to explain how it is that other phone companies around the world manage to charge one fourth of what they charge in Cuba for these services.

Perhaps we will soon be finding out how AT&T or AOL do it, because Obama stressed the US would facilitate investments that will allow for the improvement of communications among Cubans. ETECSA’s inefficiency could well become a national security issue.

Luckily, Cuba’s telephone company will not have to spend much or experience many headaches to set up the Wi-Fi zones. It will suffice to import some small signs reading “Wi-Fi” and place these wherever there is a group of Cubans “navigating” in the middle of the street.

Improvised Wi-Fi zones used by people who “steal” the signal from companies or institutions can be found in many places around Havana.

Cuba’s phone company, ETECSA, charges US $ 4.50 for an hour of Internet use at cybercafés, but Wi-Fi zones ought to charge less, as they do not require a locale or State computers.
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s website.

7 thoughts on “Havana’s Unofficial Wi-Fi Zones

  • January 9, 2015 at 9:52 am

    LOL! The best description of a bureaucrat I’ve read in a long time. And it doesn’t apply only to Cuba. It works just as well to describe a Canadian bureaucrat.

  • January 9, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Obama announced he will make it easier for US telecom companies to sell equipment to Cuba, but I don’t imagine that any US companies will be doing the work in Cuba. The work in Cuba will be handled by technicians from ETCSA . By the way, The Castro brothers personally own a significant stake in ETECSA through their holding company, RAFIN SA.

  • January 9, 2015 at 7:10 am

    The correct term under Cuban law would be “illegal” not “unofficial”.
    The blockade on internet in Cuba just shows how much the regime fears the Cuban people.

  • January 8, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    What a great opening line! Ilf and Petrov couldn’t have said it better!

  • January 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Do you think it’s possible that ETEC S.A. made the announcement to set up Wi-Fi
    by January because Barack Obama intends to allow American telecommunications companies to set up internet infrastructure, betting that the US would play a role in speeding up modernizing the internet infrastructure ahead of other countries? If so, ETEC S.A. may have been desperate for American money to upgrade the internet infrastructure.

  • January 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    It takes one to know one 🙂

  • January 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Idiots! Why not make the WiFi zones free and sell advertising space to casa particulares or paladares to advertise their business or service? Or better yet, make them free and cut the budget on the goons the Castros hire to arrest and beat middle-aged women carrying flowers.

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