By Mauricio Mendoza
HAVANA TIMES – With technological advances and the progress of society, Internet access, with all its pros and cons, has become a very useful tool nowadays. It keeps us in touch with each other and informed. It is also an irreplaceable means of work because of the thousands of features this great network gives us. As a result, Internet access and use is a lot more than just something to do in your free time or a form of entertainment, it’s a basic need.
In Cuba, Internet access came decades late. It was late 2015 when Cuba’s only telecommunications company, ETECSA, offered Cubans the chance to connect via WIFI in public areas, for an exorbitant price.
What the government and party-line media called Internet access for the people, which essentially boiled down to access to Facebook and Instagram, because at 3 CUC (=USD) per hour of Internet access, very few people had time to explore all of the features this platform offers us, using it pretty much only to communicate with relatives and friends living abroad. Not to mention the fact that even if you do have money, access to many websites is restricted in Cuba.
Connecting to the Internet using a public WIFI network is free in many parts of the world.
Here, WIFI prices have dropped over time until an hour of Internet access costs 1 CUC. Even though the difference between 3 and 1 CUC is huge, it is still expensive if you bear in mind the low average wage most Cubans earn.
After three years of uncomfortable hours spent sitting in parks, without any privacy and tied to the limits of the WIFI hotspot, 3G and 4G technologies were then introduced. When 3G came to Cuba, it was the splitting image of when we finally got WIFI (in terms of price and access, I mean). As well as being expensive, the service up until now hasn’t even had the quality of the price people are being asked to pay. There have been connection and coverage problems in some places and during certain periods throughout the day, making connecting to the Internet impossible.
The cheapest mobile data package, that gives you 600 MB, costs 7 CUC; while you can also sign up for 1 GB for 10 CUC and the ridiculous 2.5 GB data package for 20 CUC. Given the fact that phone credit to make phone calls is also expensive, Cubans have opted to buy a 600 MB or 1 GB data package and then use WhatsApp to communicate more cheaply. People who only use WhatsApp might be able to make their data last the entire month. However, the Internet is so much more than just WhatsApp and Facebook.
People who use the Internet to work, to seek information for studying or just want to access entertainment options that it also gives us, wouldn’t be able to make 1 GB last a day even, not to mention that it’s impossible to download anything or send any large files with these data packages.
The national telecommunications company is also offering another home service called Nauta hogar, with the same expensive prices that no average Cuban would be able to afford, as well as other exorbitant prices of items on the island.
Popular dissatisfaction with excessively high Internet prices has been significant. However, ETECSA hasn’t disclosed any information or given an answer about the matter. Word has it that offers are on the way for mobile data packages. When you look at the company’s website, the information that appears on its pages is directed at different ways to pay their fees, but there isn’t any mention of discounts or benefits for Cubans’ pockets.
ETECSA has been raking in tons of money from its expensive services for years now. It’s time that they drop their prices and establish affordable rates for the average Cuban, because they aren’t offering a luxury service, but a much-needed tool for any human being today, because in today’s world, it’s another basic human right.