Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – In April, Cuba’s phone company (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., or ETECSA) will begin offering Wi-Fi services to Cuban users who can afford these services at NAUTA Internet access locales.
This information was offered Havana Times, off the record, by an official of this, Cuba’s one communications company. The employee guaranteed that these new services will be operational in a little over a month.
The Internet access locale at Havana’s Miramar Trade Center has been offering this type of connection since January, and users who own Wi-Fi enabled devices have been able to use this service.
During this initial, trial period, the cost of this service has been the same as that established for regular Internet navigation services offered by the locales set up across the island by ETECSA: 4.50 CUC (5 USD) per hour.
While using the service to gauge its quality, we perceived that the signal strength is acceptable, but that the connection speed (some 54 Mbps) is lower than that offered by nearby hotels, which charge 6 CUC the hour.
When Wi-Fi services are operational (which isn’t every day), a good dozen people, particularly young foreign students, can be seen using mobile phones and laptops in the vicinity of the trade complex, where ETECSA’s top management and the referred-to NAUTA locale are based.
The offer, however, is far more affordable than the Mobile Internet services option recently announced by the government, which will become available as of the first quarter of the year at the rate of 1 CUC per megabyte of data transfer.
Mobile E-Mail Services
A new service allowing users to send and receive emails on their mobile phones through a NAUTA account began to be offered in a rather disorganized fashion on March 4.
Three locales around the capital began to activate the service free of charge. The cost of the service is taken from the mobile phone’s credit and does not affect the balance of the NAUTA Internet account.
ETECSA officials and employees at the company offices located in Havana’s Focsa building received large numbers of people seeking to activate the service.
“We’ve received no instructions whatsoever,” one of the employees said. Her supervisor confirmed that several users had left the locale, having been unable to activate the service after a five-hour wait.
The new offer is the most affordable of those recently made available by ETECSA – it will allow users to send and receive emails through their mobile phones at a rate of 0.01 CUC per 10 Kb of data transfer. This service will rely exclusively on NAUTA accounts.
Declining Services at New Internet Locales
Problems have begun to arise at NAUTA locales in the course of months. As was to be expected despite the exorbitant prices, the demand far exceeds the offer.
There are a mere 133 navigation locales in the entire country, each with an average of 6 computers. The lines of people outside these establishments, 5 to 10 people long, spell a waiting time of around 45 minutes.
In addition to this and the fact the connection speed isn’t ideal, lost connections are becoming more and more common. Users try in vain to open their pages of interest, without being told by NAUTA employees that the connection was temporarily suspended.
While this happens, however, the clock continues to tick. Though minutes of paid connection are lost this way, there is no refund mechanism in place.
Two computers have been inoperative at the NAUTA locale at 17 and C, Vedado, for two weeks now. A regular user at the locale in the FOCSA building tells us that some computers have broken or have disabled USB ports and a number of broken important keys.
The right mouse button has also been disabled on some NAUTA computers, preventing users from expanding contextual menus and limiting the speed with which they can save or send files.
In addition, as of three weeks ago, ETECSA ceased selling pre-paid 4.50 CUC cards, and many users, after waiting in line, find out they are unable to connect to the Internet owing to the lack of cards.
Employees have no explanation for this shortage of cards. The only available solution is to open an account, whose credit can be recharged directly through cash payments.
In the lines of people outside these locales, some speculate it is a strategy by Cuban State Security aimed at establishing greater control over users. It is easier to monitor a user with a fixed username and password than to follow someone who changes these with every new card they purchase.
It is well worth mentioning that, in either case, the ID number of the user is registered and associated to the card or account.
A new directive handed down from ETECSA’s management, to be implemented in March, prohibits more than one person from sitting down in front of a computer console.
To date, owing to the fact Cubans have nearly no experience navigating the Internet, it was common to see a friend or relative helping a user check their email or set up a Facebook account.
As of this month, this will no longer be allowed (though we’ve seen that the measure has been applied discretionally across different locales around the capital).
The fact of the matter is that dissatisfaction surrounding high prices, the lack of privacy, the poor quality of the connection, the shortage of pre-paid cards, the new measure barring users from navigating with companions and the long waiting times have created a rather hostile environment at different NAUTA establishments.
Wi-Fi and mobile e-mail services could help make overall services more dynamic, but the poor quality of the services offered thus far has undermined the confidence of those asked about the new offers.