By Pedro Campos
HAVANA TIMES — Some months ago, ETECSA, Cuba’s State telecommunications monopoly, set up a messaging system for mobile phones which allows users to send and receive emails to and from any address in the world.
This is undeniably a small window to the world, opened at a time when Cuban telecommunications are lagging decades behind. It is also an important step in a country where people could access email accounts exclusively through the official, astronomically expensive Internet locales (at just over $5.00 USD the hour), or through the restricted accounts offered by some companies, and/or ministry servers like those of the Ministry of Culture of Public Health.
The installation fee for the service, known as Nauta, is 2.50 CUC (2.85 USD), and the rate is approximately 1 dollar per megabyte, be it in downloads or messages. It is not exactly an affordable service if one uses it to send large volumes of information, articles and photos, but, as a means of sending short messages, it proves cheaper than the sms service.
Cubans have secured the service en masse and there are certain times during the day when the server is so saturated one can wait up to 15 minutes to be able to send out a message, such that immediacy, one of the reasons one opts for this type of communication in the first place, is being lost. ETECSA officials should urgently get to work on this.
Another problem faced by the Nauta service is that your limited inbox fills up quickly, and when that happens, you have to go to an ETECSA office where they have computers connected to the system used to download the mail and clean the inbox. The service is very slow if one uses one’s phone to do so. Many are forced to do this on a regular basis and visit one of ETECSA’s offices at least once a month, where the account must be reactivated for 0.50 CUC.
In view of these inconveniences, one could say this window to the world is a bit broken and ought to be modernized.
To reduce user costs and encourage the use of the service, the company could study the possibility of reducing or eliminating the cost of receiving data and charge clients only for outgoing data.
Company executives should be mindful of these problems and try to solve them, to guarantee the proper functioning of the service and to satisfy their customers.
That said, this is an important step in the world of Cuban telecommunications which ETECSA should look after and guarantee, for, to a certain extent, it is helping tear down the information blockade the Cuban people are subjected to because of their lack of access to the Internet, and because it constitutes an essential means for Cubans to stay in contact with their relatives abroad.
ETECSA has been criticized for its abusive prices and other measures that affect users. It’s possible that, thanks to these complaints, we’ll be seeing more efficiency in the Nauta service and other service initiatives such as the double-credit option, the selling of accounts with initial credit and mobile phone news bulletins.
The company’s efficiency continues to prove insufficient in terms of meeting the information needs of the population and impelling the development of the economy in general.
Information on the Internet suggests that ETECSA is interested in broadening the country’s connectivity, but that it aspires to do so on the basis of its current communications monopoly.
Some experts believe that the creation of a broad proxy system, used to control access to the Internet, a costly infrastructure which involves a whole team of experts, is one of the reasons we still do not have access to the Internet.
For others, the true reasons behind this are political; stemming from the fear that social interconnectivity will make it possible for the population to increase pressures calling for economic, political and social changes.
These fears are natural in a political system accustomed to monopolizing information and to making decisions without taking the will of the majority into consideration.
Those who act in this fashion are the main enemies of scientific, social, cultural, economic and democratic development in our society. The modern and developed world is inconceivable without the Internet. Any form of “prosperous and sustainable” socialism, such as the one envisaged by the government, does not stand a chance without it.
It’s clear: the demand for broad access to low-cost Internet requires a new political and economic philosophy for a State that continues to cling to centralized decision-making mechanisms and to “socialist monopolies” over the economy – it’s hard to think of something more contradictory, more anti-socialist, more anti-Marxist, more anti-development and more counterrevolutionary.
Apparently, US steps in this area are not enough for the Cuban State, which, during recent negotiations on the subject, must have clearly exposed the obstacles that persist and what the United States must do to clear the road.
The people, culture, economic development and freedom of Cuba require efficient communication services. When will all manipulation and tricks used to avoid this broad demand come to an end?
Cover photo by Juan Suarez