Net ac­cess for Cubans on cell­phones from to­day

Gulf Times - - LATIN AMERICA -

Cubans will be able to ac­cess the In­ter­net on their mo­bile phones from to­day, staterun tele­coms monopoly ETECSA said, mark­ing a mile­stone for what has long been one of the western hemi­sphere’s least con­nected coun­tries.

Nearly half of the Com­mu­nistrun coun­try’s 11.2mn res­i­dents have cell­phones although not all will be able to af­ford mo­bile in­ter­net.

In a news show broad­cast, ETECSA ex­ec­u­tives an­nounced a range of pack­ages valid for 30 days from 600MB for the equiv­a­lent of $7 to 4 GB for $30.

With­out a pack­age, 100MB will cost users $10.

The cost will be out of reach for many Cubans as the av­er­age state wage is around $30 per month, and many peo­ple rely on re­mit­tances from rel­a­tives abroad or side gigs to get by.

“It was about time this be­came a pos­si­bil­ity for Cubans too,” said Ha­vana res­i­dent Joaquin Mon­tiel, 58. “But for some, like me, it’s still a re­mote one.”

Mon­tiel said he would not be able to af­ford a cell­phone with 3G tech­nol­ogy on his wage of less than $20 per month as a sales­man in a state com­pany.

Cuba has lagged far be­hind most coun­tries in Web ac­cess, whether be­cause of a lack of cash, a long-run­ning US trade em­bargo or con­cerns about the flow of in­for­ma­tion.

Un­til 2013, in­ter­net was largely only avail­able to the pub­lic at tourist ho­tels on the is­land.

But the gov­ern­ment has since made boost­ing con­nec­tiv­ity a pri­or­ity, in­tro­duc­ing cy­ber­cafes and out­door Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly start­ing to hook up homes to the Web.

“It will be good to be able to con­nect to the web with greater com­fort,” said Guillermo Diaz, 38, who fre­quently heads to his a WiFi hotspot in a park near his home in or­der to videochat with fam­ily who em­i­grated to the US.

Many Cubans com­plain about hav­ing to brave in­sects and the el­e­ments at the hotspots, which also lack of pri­vacy.

Ta­nia Ve­lazquez, ETECSA vice pres­i­dent, said the com­pany would be rolling out the ser­vice over sev­eral days in or­der to avoid the net­work con­ges­tion that oc­curred dur­ing mo­bile in­ter­net test­ing ear­lier this year.

Many Cubans com­plained they could not use their cell­phones for mak­ing calls or send­ing text mes­sages dur­ing the tests.

“The qual­ity of ser­vice will be a key fac­tor dur­ing the roll­out of mo­bile in­ter­net,” said Norges Ro­driguez, one of the ed­i­tors of Yu­caByte, a Cuban me­dia out­let on tele­coms and their im­pact on so­ci­ety.

Ve­lazquez an­nounced that ac­cess to state-run ap­pli­ca­tions and web­sites like Ecured, a Cuban Wikipedia, would be sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than ac­cess to the World Wide Web.

Pres­i­dent Miguel Diaz-Canel, who suc­ceeded Raul Cas­tro in April, has cham­pi­oned greater con­nec­tiv­ity, un­der­scor­ing the po­ten­tial for in­ter­net to boost the econ­omy and en­able Cuba to bet­ter de­fend its rev­o­lu­tion on­line.

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