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Human Rights

Cuba to Open Public Internet Outlets – at 4.50 Dollars an Hour

The international Informática 2013 Fair, held in Havana Mar. 19-22, 2013. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

HAVANA, May 28 2013 (IPS) - Cuba will continue to prioritise public Internet access over connectivity in private homes, as indicated by a government announcement Tuesday that 118 new public cyber salons would open nationwide as of early June.

The new Internet outlets were reportedly made possible by the “full functioning” of a fibre optic cable laid between Cuba and Venezuela.

The government-controlled press reported on a communications ministry resolution Tuesday that said one hour online in the new outlets would cost the equivalent of 4.50 dollars, payable in 4.50 CUCs or convertible pesos, to which only a small part of the Cuban population of 11.2 million has access.

That amount is equivalent to 108 Cuban pesos, the currency earned by most Cubans. “I cannot possibly afford that on my pension of 270 pesos a month,” retired journalist and university professor Enrique López Oliva told IPS.

Readers of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, which expanded on the information, had similar complaints. “It looks like whoever set these prices lives in another country or earns a salary wholly in CUCs,” commented one reader who identified himself as J. Pérez.

But the price for surfing the domestic Intranet will be 0.60 CUCs (14.40 pesos) an hour. And access to the international email service will cost 1.50 CUCs (36 pesos) an hour.

Internet, Intranet and email services in Cuba are provided by the state-owned telecoms company ETECSA, which has a monopoly over the informatics and communications sector.

The official resolution specifies that clients cannot use Internet services to carry out actions harmful to “public security, the economy, independence and national sovereignty” – a warning apparently aimed at dissident groups, which the government considers “mercenaries in the pay” of a hostile foreign power, the United States.

Juventud Rebelde wrote that the expansion of connectivity was in line with the Cuban strategy of facilitating growing access to new technologies, depending on the availability of funds and resources, and based on an approach that puts a priority on the social good.

It added that the new cyber salons were made possible by the underwater fibre optic cable running from Guaira in northern Venezuela to Siboney in eastern Cuba, which permits the high-quality, high-speed and stable transmission of a large amount of information.

Authorities in Cuba blame the five-decade U.S. economic and technological embargo for the high local cost of Internet connections, and for the serious problems in web services in this Caribbean island nation.

The newspaper added that “the fibre optic cable, while it improves international communications (up to now carried mainly by satellite) is not a free service, which explains the initial cost of the expansion of the service of navigation on the Internet.”

The cable reached Cuban shores in 2011, and Venezuela’s authorities declared it operational in May 2012, although Cuba’s official media maintained a discreet silence.

Cuba has a minimum bandwidth of 323 megabits per second via satellite, but various sources say the fibre optic cable will increase the current transmission speed by a factor of 3,000 and will cut operating costs by 25 percent, although the satellite services will continue to function.

Cuban authorities have repeatedly made it clear that the country will continue to put a priority on the “social use” of the new technologies – in other words, on connectivity in schools, research and work centres, professional associations or recreational and community centres.

A tiny minority of Cubans have access to the Internet, the Intranet or email service in their homes, basically by dial-up. Another small minority can afford the steep prices of cybercafés, mainly in hotels, which charge around eight dollars an hour.

In its report this year to the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cuban delegation stated that the country had 783,000 personal computers as of the end of 2011. Of that total, an estimated 18 percent were in homes and more than 33 percent were in the health, education and culture sectors.

“In addition, 2,610,000 users employ Internet services, 622,000 with full navigation,” added the document, which did not differentiate between “social” and private access – the latter of which is limited, by means of payment in national currency, to intellectuals and professionals such as journalists, academics, artists or doctors.

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