Published: Fri, December 07, 2018
Tech | By

Cuba offers its citizens access to mobile internet for the first time

Cuba offers its citizens access to mobile internet for the first time

Cuba's state telephone company will allow mobile phone customers to use the Internet via a new 3G network, starting on Thursday. After all, it was only 10 years ago that the Castro government lifted its ban that prohibited regular citizens from buying computers, and Internet access in private homes was rare before 2016.

Cuba has one of the world's lowest rates of internet use, but service began expanding in recent years under then President Raul Casto, and current President Miguel Diaz-Canel has said he wants to expand connectivity for Cubans.

The new service will be available on Thursday, and this week the first mobile customers will receive notifications that they're eligible.

Mayra Arevich, the president of Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), the telecommunications monopoly on the island, went on national TV Tuesday to announce the news. He opened a twitter account in October to much fanfare, and many government officials have followed his lead.

However, the government has made a decision to continue the relaxation of restrictions to Internet access, which had largely been confined to hotels and state-owned clubs prior to the start of the decade. In 2015 the country's first Wi-Fi hotspot appeared and in 2017, a limited number of home connections have been permitted. But a Cuban 3G service launching soon might be too expensive for citizens (via The Independent).

"I think it's great, I would like to use it to stay in touch with my daughters who live overseas but I don't know if I can afford it yet", said Nestor Rodriguez, who said he makes the equivalent of a few dollars a day selling fried pork rinds in Havana's winding colonial streets. A data package for a cellphone is expected to begin around $7 for 600 megabytes and $30 for four gigabytes.

The cost will be out of reach for many Cubans as the average state wage is around $30 a month, with many people relying on relatives overseas sending money or side gigs to get by.

Still, the Cuban government said the new service showed a desire to modernize and open ever so slightly a country with some of the most restricted internet in the world. We continue to advance in the digitisation of society.

But other Cubans were more skeptical of the opening, saying tests this year of the new 3G service caused the network to grind to a halt and crash. The government blamed the U.S. trade embargo for the internet drought.

The promise of wide mobile access to the Internet comes more than a year after Google helped boost Internet speeds within Cuba, installing servers through a deal with ETECSA.

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