By Taylor Emilio Torres Escalona
HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, there is a town called Dos Caminos, located a mere 20 kilometers from the nearly 500-years-old Santiago de Cuba. Many of the things currently being debated through social networks, blogs and even the country’s official press go unnoticed in this town.
The closest thing to the Internet locals know (with the exception of a handful of medical doctors and computer club employees) is the “weekly package,” something that marks the difference and everyone anxiously awaits, to have some “entertainment at night.”
Many there have never even heard the word “Wi-Fi” and the furthest they’ve gone in terms of a wireless connection is the use of Bluetooths in mobile phones. I would like to think that this will change, that may will start to develop an interest in things such as social networks, the World Wide Web, broad bandwidth connections and other phenomena, in order to grasp what will supposedly happen in a very short span of time.
Before continuing, I would like to tell you a story. I don’t know whether this is the case elsewhere in the country, but, in Dos Caminos, telephone technology is still analogic, which means phones are still serviced by the same, 50-year-old dispatch. No new phone terminals have been set up in ten years due to unavailability and the number of phones in operation today is not very large.
The few telephone lines in operation, or the landlines that exist, have lousy service. To get through to home from Havana, I have to dial the number about 20 times and, even when I know no one is using the phone, I have to endure the busy signal around 15 times. The other four times, I get a number that isn’t my home. I can get the police, the video rental place or someone else’s house. After the 20th try, if I’m lucky, I can perhaps get my mother on the phone.
That’s the state of communications in this small Cuban town, and I am anything but an isolated case. The same thing happens to nearly everyone using ETECSA’s services there.
Two years ago, my mom used to rely on the wakeup call service (offered at 502555) that ETECSA offered places where digital technology had not yet been installed. [A big help since alarm clocks are scarce and expensive.] She would always wake up at 6 in the morning with that call. Today she has to rely on other methods, for, with the pending digitalization process, that service could no longer be offered users. As I mentioned, this happened two years ago.
I think it’s relevant to again mention that this town is only 20 kilometers from the provincial capital. We’re not talking about a place that’s difficult to reach, on the peak of one of the mountains of the Sierra Maestra or anything of the sort. This is happening there, right at the doorsteps of civilization, next to a national West-East highway, where I assume (as I am no expert) that improving phone services would not entail huge investments.
I wanted to share this story because, this way, it’s easy to get a sense of what people know about new technologies in my town, so that those who read this post will be able to gage just how much work remains to be done, objectively and subjectively, so that 50 % of homes in Dos Caminos have access to the Internet by 2020, supposing we can actually dream about those figures being promised today and skirting all pessimism (and thinking my town, thanks to tradition, may remain in the 50 % of places that still do not have an Internet connection by 2020).
I am also worried about the material conditions needed for a home to connect to the Internet. I am specifically thinking about computers as the fundamental tool for such a connection. If few are the homes that have a landline, fewer are those that have a computer. In some cases, where there is a computer, there is no phone. This, as I see it, is another issue that needs to be addressed, as the “computer of Cuban families,” the Youth Computer Clubs, are inadequate these days because of the growing demand for these services in Cuba.
I don’t want to touch on the issue of prices, as I’ve dealt with it elsewhere and the problem affects more than just my small town. Here, we are told “that these issues are being looked at,” that the government seeks to make the Internet more accessible and what it is in many places around the world, a right. We have no other choice but to wait, see what happens, though this waiting process will probably be marked by that phrase that has already become a tired and bitter slogan: “slowly but surely.”
P.S. Yesterday, after managing to get through to my mom, she told me she was notified that, this coming July 15th, all landlines in Dos Caminos will be digitalized…let us hope this is a good sign!