Cuba Adds More Pay-for Wi-Fi Hot Spots

Connected to the Wi-FI. Photo: Juan Suarez
Connected to the Wi-FI. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities increased access to the Internet on the island with the opening of new pay-for Wi-Fi hot spots in public places in the interior of the country, reported dpa news on Friday.

The Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA has opened eight new hot spots around the country, explained “Granma” daily. The authorities are also planning to open 12 more similar spaces by the end of the year, said the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The new Wi-Fi zones are in parks in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas, Matanzas, Villa Clara and Mayabeque, as well as a square in Sancti Spiritus.

With the new hot spots, Cuba now has 43 pay-for wireless zones throughout the country, several of them in Havana. Likewise the areas surrounding hotels that offer their customers wireless Internet access are also used by Cubans, especially in the capital.

Public spaces with network access have become very popular on the island in recent months, as contracting home Internet service remains banned for ordinary Cubans.

In Havana it’s now common to see entire families on the sidewalks talking to relatives abroad via telephone applications such as Imo, as well as mostly young people surfing the Internet sitting in parks or plazas until the early morning hours.

Much of Cuban society has lived and continues to live “offline”. According to figures from the UN agency International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2013 only 3.4 percent of Cuban households were connected to the Internet.

Contracting private Internet access at home remains prohibited; some “trusted” officials, professionals and artists are the exception, allowed a painfully slow dial up connection.

The government of Raul Castro says it wants to give priority to “social and public use” of the Internet.

Although the price of using the Wi-Fi access in public places has dropped to 2 CUC an hour ($ 2.30 USD) it is still prohibitive for the vast majority of Cubans who earn between 10 and 20 CUC a month.

Since mid-2013 the authorities have opened dozens of Internet cafes throughout the island. ETECSA also offers limited email access from mobile phones. Despite improvements, the island still has one of the world’s worst connectivity offers.

International organizations and dissidents accuse the government of not providing affordable home Internet access for political reasons. Meanwhile, the Cuban government says the United States is responsible for the poor state of telecommunications infrastructure on the island, caused by the commercial and economic embargo imposed on the island since the 1960s.

4 thoughts on “Cuba Adds More Pay-for Wi-Fi Hot Spots

  • It is a strange thing. In one way it is a way to go (huge costs apart), in another not at all.
    In Italy finally wifi access is extending and till about one year ago it was still quite limited. Which of course was not that good.
    But access by mobile phone service providers was and is quite cheap and connection can be relatively fast (1 Mbits/s and upwards) almost everywhere in the country, even at the top of a lonely mountain. This has more than compensated the lack of public wifi hotsposts (not very much the availability nor speed of ADSL connections, which are nevertheless in another world respect to Cuba, but which lag a bit behind the rest of Europe).

    So, the problem is not the wifi, which is good by itself. The bad is that it is the only and rare (43 wifi hotspots are few and leave totally unconnected every Cuban outside bigger cities, and in the cities those living too far from the serviced areas. I speak out of experience. I remember in Cuba even trying to catch a glimpse of connection from buses when passing through the only places I knew were equipped with ETECSA wifi) way of connecting.
    Mobile broadband is there and most of the times you can catch 3G signal. But you cannot do anything apart email exchange (how tight is the control of mailservers in Cuba?). A missed opportunity or planned control of information exchange?
    And ADSL at home as far as I understood and everybody says is as rare as a diamond.

    A good connection would/will be the mix of all means. Wifi in the center of the cities, mobile in the countryside (you cannot cover a country by wifi) and ADSL and the likes at home.

    But in Cuba we are obviously still very far from this.

  • 20+ years behind the times. How do people put up with these restrictions?

  • This drip, drip, drip method of improving internet access is maddening. Fearful of losing control, the Castros see the internet as an enemy. The US embargo makes exception for Internet technology. To blame the embargo for Cuba’s pathetic internet access is another example of Castro cowardice.

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