Cuba’s Free Home Internet Test in Old Havana

January 9, 2017 | Print Print |

By Progreso Semanal

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES – With a free trial service the Internet is reaching 2,000 homes in Old Havana. It is the first time that ordinary citizens can access the Internet from their homes. It is said that signing contracts and charging in hard currency to those wishing to continue with the service will begin at the end of February.

Traditionally December is not only month of farewells of the year, but also pleasant novelties. Precisely in that month two areas of Old Havana, surrounding the Cathedral and Plaza Vieja, already have the Nauta Hogar home Internet service.

“I can surf the network wherever I want,” says Ángel Aguilera Castillo, 37, a Community Projects Advisor and also a journalist. When he mentioned this profession we thought he had been selected precisely because of that condition [since official government journalists have always been favored].

“No, it was not as a journalist,” he replies. “In my building everyone who had a telephone, which is 15 people, are connected,” he says. Subsequently, several of the neighbors quietly confirmed to us their access to the Internet noting that nobody else in the building is a journalist. About two thousand people who live in the areas where the pilot project is taking place are already connected.

It all started a couple of years ago when the residents of Old Havana and its Historic Quarter in particular, saw workers drilling streets, digging ditches, changing tubes and cables. The government had made the decision to renew the obsolete connections of water, gas, electricity and telephone lines, says Angel. The latter were changed in several zones to fiber optic cables. Thus summarizes the history of the beginning of what in the matter of communications is already materialized in two important sectors of the old city.

“This is a test,” says Angel and as such is being monitored by ETECSA, the monopoly telecommunications company of Cuba. Employees of this firm communicate with users in order to check the functioning and difficulties – of the latter “very few”, thus far says our interviewee.

First “they changed our telephone numbers” (everybody  on the Nauta Hogar service starts with 801), then “they gave us all the necessary equipment (modem) and cables” and gave us instructions on how to connect. In case of doubt, ETECSA was available, says Angel.
Thus began the test of bringing the internet to homes, “totally free until February 28,” he says. From that date he and the other users will have to sign a contract and start paying.

Who are the users?

“All those living in the designated area … about two thousand people” are part of the test, and adds that “they decided on these two areas because there are both a large number of private workers/businesses and government offices in the area. This experiment not only benefits the people, but also the ministries.”

Angel sits at his desk and starts connecting to the internet. While doing so we are interested in whether there have been some selective criteria that excluded some citizens.

Old Havana street. Photo: Caridad

“Everybody has been given the service, manual workers, housewives, peasants,” etc. No person has been excluded “whether or not in favor of the revolutionary system,” he emphasizes. The display lights up and we continue talking about connection speed and prices. [Angel didn’t mention if all these people actually own computers.]

“I’m traveling now at the speed of 256 kbps totally free,” but only until February 28, he repeats. From that date, he and the other users able to pay for the service, will sign the contract, “then you can request other bandwidths, which can reach to 512 to 2Mb.” And they will inform us the price of each one.

Do you have any idea of ??how much the basic service will cost and how much different speeds or bandwidths?

He says he doesn’t know the prices* but “although I do not have the money I will try to look for it”, he says, motivated by some beneficial experiences, such as when he entered the site of the famous international store IKEA and saw a model of furniture he needed. I didn’t buy it. But he studied the design, “I built it myself” and is already enjoying it.

Surfing the web we urged him to try to enter the international media. He does and it appears practically all the important ones of Europe and the USA open. He clicks on the New York Times and it opens.

“We do not have any limitation on where to enter,” Angel affirms and continues to open other sites.

We asked Angel how he thinks people are benefiting with the internet. Do they look for news, or to communicate with family and friends?

Without stopping typing and showing us on the screen, he goes through FB and other sites, at the same time he responds by saying “look this has been beneficial for the communication of the population with their families, which I believe is what most people (…) so they can communicate from their homes with their mother, their father (…); Sometimes with doctors who are on mission and have left their family here.”

He stops his search on the site of Progreso Semanal and says to us “The Internet has arrived to stay and that Cuba has understood it perfectly. The experience will grow as the company (ETECSA) grows in technology and economic resources (…). The population is quite pleased.”
He smiles and at the end he lets us know that “After the year-end pig, it is this service that people are talking the most about.”
—–

(*) Some sources close to ETECSA tell us that the rate of 256 Kbps will cost 15 CUC (Convertible Pesos) for 30 hours. The one of 512 about 50 CUC / 30 hours. 1Mb 70 Cuc / 30 hours and 2Mb 115/30 hours. They also add that expanded contract hours will be available by buying Nauta cards. At the same time it is probable that recharging from outside Cuba will be made possible.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Even for a cynic like me, this is a positive first step. Wow, it’s 2017, and 2000 Cubans can access the Internet at 256 kpbs! What’s next? CD players?

    • pipefitter

      Yes I agree, you could be called the grandaddy of all cynics in regard to Cuba. They have to start to install equipment and see what coverage they have through trials. Lots of cities in North America still don’t have wifi.

      • Moses Patterson

        If by “cities in North America”, you mean places like Havana, Texas (pop.435), you are half-wrong about access to WiFi. Even a whistle-stop place like this still has access to satellite-based internet service. Havana, Cuba, on the other hand will not even allow its citizens who could possibly afford such access to do so without the approval of the Castro dictatorship.

        • pipefitter

          You confuse the two systems Moses, yes satelite based internet is available in North America and is an entirely different and very expensive system compared to Wi-fi. Wi-fi is a local short range wireless system that is available in very few localities in North america and is usualy installed and paid for by local buisinesses or local Gov.

          • Moses Patterson

            I am not confused at all. The cabin I am using this week has DISH network satellite internet access and WiFi is available throughout the home. It’s ILLEGAL to bring a satellite dish into the country in Cuba without prior permission. But for Castro paranoia, there would be many more satellite TV and Internet dishes installed on Cuban rooftops. My in-laws would have one for sure.

          • pipefitter

            And who would pay for that service?

          • pipefitter

            I have a cabin in the boonies but couldn’t afford satellite internet.

          • Moses Patterson

            At least you have the choice. Cubans, no matter where they live, have no choice.

          • pipefitter

            They ultimately would have no choice, because they couldn’t afford it.

          • Moses Patterson

            Not true. Initially, the costs would be steep. But after those initial costs are covered, the government could offer the service relatively cheap. The reality in Cuba is not cost-related. A number of international providers have offered to foot the bill and the Castros have rejected these offers. Only recently was Google given permission to build out a pilot infrastructure. The problem is political. The Castros are fearful that the people will learn the truth and begin to think for themselves.

          • steve webster

            it is all about control of the people in Cuba.

          • pipefitter

            I suppose the Gov. supplies Yours free.

          • Moses Patterson

            No, I wish that they did. But my government doesn’t tax me at more than 95% of my earnings either as the Castros do in Cuba.

          • Moses Patterson

            The Castros should make it free to Cubans or subsidized to be priced at an affordable level for Cubans.

  • bjmack

    Great story and finally a beginning. Congrats to those who will have access. I’ll enjoy following this story.