Internet Access Breakthrough in Cuba

By Jancel Moreno

HAVANA TIMES – Today, we can say that most people know about the mobile instant messaging app ToDUS, developed by the University of Information Sciences (UCI) and Cuba’s state telecommunications company (ETECSA). A project which has been on a trial run until now, but which has proven that they can think about helping the Cuban people more than about taking every penny they can, like we are used to with ETECSA’s services.

While it’s true that there have been problems with the App on more than one occasion, it really is a breakthrough as it has helped Cubans to understand how internet messaging works. Although I repeat, there are still some things that the App needs to work out, but it has been a great relief for many Cubans and even more so for those who have access to 3G technology.

However, on August 14th 2018, I received news in one of the chat groups I’m in that we would have free internet until 8 PM. Suddenly, joy filled the streets and it was quite an event. I called up all my friends to tell them to take advantage of the situation, you could even hear some neighbors shouting the news from balcony to balcony.

It was real, not a fake rumor. I had internet on my phone and I didn’t have to pay a single cent. In the beginning, it was almost going as fast as ETECSA’s WIFI service, but then it seems that the network became overloaded, as I’m sure most of us Cubans were all connected at the same time.

At 2:20 PM, there wasn’t any trace of internet on my cellphone. I went back into ToDus and the trial had effectively ended, nobody had access anymore.

Asking ourselves what could have happened, I realized that it was just a simple collapse because nearly all of my friends were making video calls, downloading apps and even playing games online; which must have led to ETECSA’s platform becoming so congested that it affected mobile data for approximately 30 mins.

But like some people rightly say, it was a great opportunity. We enjoyed nearly two and a half hours of internet access, which has proven that ETECSA still needs to work at being able to support mass Cuban access to the internet. However, it also proves that if there had been a willingness to provide a good service a while ago, today, Cubans would be able to surf the web like the rest of the world.

While we continue to wait for more trials like today, it was great to feel like the rest of the world, connected and without having to look at how much time we have left on our account, even if it was just for two and a half hours.

7 thoughts on “Internet Access Breakthrough in Cuba

  • I Dan Segal am not questioning Ellie’s concerns about positions in the US – note my first paragraph! Nor would I have the temerity to suggest that my knowledge of the US compares with hers, she no doubt knows “better” regarding her own country. But, I have explained why I am able to speak of Cuba and it is highly probable that I do know more about the plight of Cubans than she.
    But, the obvious inability of US laws to for example prevent the use of cell-phones whilst driving, does not serve as a reason for suggesting that Cubans might be wise to avoid or restrain Internet access. They have been denied access to information available to the free world for sixty years and I favour freedom of information.
    The world does not automatically mimic the US.

    I do not argue that US citizens ought not to be concerned with the numerous problems which both you and she observe in your society. But that ought not to used as a reason for denying Cubans the rights that others have. Cubans as a society do not have the means to openly express their views, the only ‘voice’ permitted being that of the Castro regime. Sixty years of censorship have ensured that!

    Finally, a comment about ETECSA. That company holds a State monopoly (with a 27% shareholding being owned by RAFIN SA – Raul and Fidel Castro) and all telephonic communication is through its systems. ETECSA is in consequence able to monitor ALL non-direct communication, adding to the information recorded by MININT through the CDR and other sources about each and every Cuban citizen.
    I read your final paragraph with particular interest, for it reflects the freedoms which Americans enjoy being able to openly discuss anything and everything. Such freedoms are totally denied for Cubans in their country where even the walls have ears and where criticism of the regime or the PCC is criminal and punished as such. Yes, you are justifiably concerned currently with the creeping autocracy of your elected President and infringements upon freedom of speech through threat. But that does not compare with Cuba – and yes, about that I do know!

  • As usual, Carlyle is turning others’ comments into a contest of who knows better. What Ellie is saying is not that she thinks Cubans should appreciate their isolation, or that government knows best. She’s only saying (I believe) that a society should be careful what it wishes for. And that in a society such as the US, where almost everything is available, for only a cost, we often find consequences we didn’t anticipate. And then it’s hard to turn back the clock.

    I agree with her. It’s certainly possible that we will regret some unlimited freedoms eventually–most intelligent Americans surely ponder on occasion the cost of various freedoms. Whether you consider the prevalence of cell phones, or drugs, weapons, even free expression…the last one being a seriously contentious issue in real time, in the present, as it relates to American society today. We think we’ve figured all that out, yet we still debate it daily in the streets, in the courts, etc. I don’t advocate for government restricting information, language, opinion, or the expression of those things. But I don’t pretend that those things always result in positive outcomes.

  • Ellie I understand your concern about the effect of cell-phones upon the minds of children in the US in particular.
    Cubans however have been denied any information from the outside world other than that which the communist regime selects, for almost sixty years. It has been named for many years as one of the ten most censored countries in the world. All media is under the control of the regime – there is no independent media. As I am married to a Cuban and spend the majority of my time in Cuba, I know the actual difference between their limited information and that available in the free capitalist world where you are privileged to live. The US could follow other countries by making it an offence to use cell-phones whilst driving – that is quite a simple law to introduce.
    I recall my wife’s astonishment when she first experienced visiting free democratic countries and the availability of information – and I would add that she has a responsible position in Cuban education. I also recall a Cuban teacher with a Doctorate in Education asking me: “How is it that people from other countries know more about some aspects of Cuba than we do?”
    The problems of the US you discuss Ellie have little relationship to Cuba.
    Have you experienced living with the CDR (Committee for the Revolution and based upon the East German Stasi) on every block of every village, town and city of your country and making a minimum of a report every year upon “who lives on every block, what they do on every block, in what activities are they involved and with whom they meet.”
    For sixty years Cubans have been denied open information – I am sure that you would not wish that to be continued!
    You live in a different world where you can openly voice your opinions, not a country where criticism of their government (ie: public officials) is an offence committing people to jail, where teaching your own children in your own home, anything that is contrary to communism can result in up to three years in jail.
    That Ellie is why the possibility of access to the Internet is of major importance to Cubans.

  • Greetings from the States:

    This headline was very eye-catching!.. and for a moment my heart leaped into my throat. My recent research led me to the unveiling of how the tech companies in the US purposely create the applications and social media to become addictive. No array of words can convey the disheartening feeling of walking among a society of zombies. Whether people are driving 60mph (115kph) on a highway, sitting collectively as a family at a restaurant, or walking across the street, they’re immersed in their cell phones.

    This has been the cause of **many** deaths- and what is worse, children are growing up to perceive this as “normal” behavior. Perhaps this does not seem like an urgent matter, however; you’d really need to experience the almost paradoxical isolation to truly understand.

    Internet being ubiquitous here is not without consequence. It is literally unraveling the very tapestry of social human interaction. I was living in Cuba this past year and when I returned to the States, the mindlessness became even more apparent to me. So, from a place of deep curiosity as to why my fellow Americans were so consumed by these contraptions, I began to research. And what I discovered was horrifying. The intentional triggers programmed into social media- to induce dopamine in the brain and the use of algorithms to predict people’s behavior on-line. It is being used as a means of Marketing, but it is also indirectly affecting people’s well being- causing anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc. And in my observation, it is the majority rather than the minority. Texting while driving accounts for almost 80% of distracted drivers on the road. Children completing suicide because they’re being bullied on-line. A mother runs back into her burning house to retrieve her mobile, never returning, leaving her daughter who was waiting outside, orphaned. There are ***countless*** stories like this and it is only becoming worse.

    I empathize that the Internet usage being quarantined and expensive in Cuba is an almost internal barrier to gather knowledge and information. However, in my opinion, it also serves as a protection. I realize that it may be hard from your perspective to see it this way~ and you needn’t agree with me. But this is coming from someone who has indeed seen it from both sides. This distraction has desensitized us from each other here in the States. It is an addiction just like alcohol or heroin and yet there is only a small percentage of people addressing it.

    Thank you for writing on this topic. For further detail on the above, the link to the episode is below:

    En este episodio, vamos a hablar de la influencia de la tecnología en la cultura y el comportamiento social en los Estados Unidos de América.

    I would be interested in discussing this with you in person upon my next visit.

    Until then, cuidate mucho~


  • If that is your barometer of when Cubans will have free access, then it may be awhile. Still, it is a pleasant dream.

  • I will believe that Cubans have full access to the Internet, when they can insert into their search:
    Raul Castro – executions
    if a picture of Raul tying a fellow revolutionary to a tree prior to execution by shooting appears, then I will believe that they have full access!

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