EFE, 14ymedio, Yeny Garcia, Havana, 28 September 2015 – For the last three months Cuba has experienced an unprecedented, although still limited, increase in Internet access with 35 new WiFi points, a boom that engages Cubans and that has led to the proliferation of services “under the table.”
Many “bisneros” [businessmen] or street traders have taken advantage of the inability of the telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, to maintain a stable supply of recharge coupons, high prices and the lack of knowledge among neophyte users, to offer services outside the legal to meet demand.
“It’s like it’s always been, we try to resolve it however we can, we don’t worry too much about how, the problem is to resolve it, to connect,” says Gerardo, a young man who has settled with his laptop on a bench on Boulevard San Rafael in Old Havana, where one of the wireless internet areas operates.
Almost always this Cuban “resolve” goes one way: “under the table,” which explains what this young Havanan intends to do to be able to challenge the restrictions.
For Gerardo “the world moves through the Internet” so the access to the web brings “many benefits to Cubans,” although for some it is still very difficult to pay the 2 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) fee for one hour of internet (over $10 US or one-tenth or more of the average monthly wage).
The eagerness of Cubans to surf the web has resulted in 55,000 individual connections from the 35 WiFi points spread across the island
“The price for the cards is very expensive, because we cannot do much in an hour, the connection is very slow, you have to keep reconnecting, and in the end it is not economical for us,” he said.
Cuba is one of the countries with the lowest rates of connectivity in the world, with only 5% of people connected to the internet (that is, not the island’s own intranet), which is reduced to 1% for broadband.
The eagerness of Cubans to surf the web has resulted in 55,000 individual connections from the 35 WiFi points spread across the island, 8,000 of them simultaneously, according to the official data.
“Many people connect and ETECSA isn’t equipped to sell the recharge cards, the lines are very long, they’re only sold during working hours. So you have to go to the black market,” a “bisnero” who offers the service told EFE, asking for anonymity.
Reselling the cards, generally at 3 CUCs (one above the official price) means having “the police always on top of you,” and so this business has shifted to “installing software,” to turn cellphones into WiFi hotspots.
Several local media, among them the main official newspaper, Granma, criticize these WiFi “merchants” who sell to users via middlemen who use their devices to create alternative wireless networks that can be accessed for half the official price.
“People often do not have the money to take advantage of what is offered, but they’re aware of all this and have increased the surveillance; I myself have been picked up by the police, for no reason, and they had to let me go,” says this young man who recognizes that “the wifi is something that has not been developed as it should have been.”
“ETECSA isn’t equipped to sell the recharge cards, the lines are very long, they’re only sold during working hours. So you have to go to the black market”
Another user, Grisel, welcomes the opportunity to connect, but is concerned about the consequences, “You have to keep your eyes open, so that someone doesn’t take your cellphone,” recognizing that the price will continue to be “elevated” if you take into account the average Cuban salary.
Hundreds of people, focused on their phones, tablets and computers, accommodate themselves as best they can on sidewalks, benches, stairs and curbs within the WiFi zones, including Yainiel, who travels from Santiago de las Vegas, about 12 miles from Havana, to connect.
“I come from far away,” he tells EFE, while affirming that “when so many people with phones and computers are outdoors, robberies increase the insecurity.”
The young engineer acknowledges the poor quality of the connection, “when there are a lot of people it is very slow and that’s money that it’s costing you,” he said, noting that this is why many people prefer to pay half-price, even though it is illegal.
“If ETECSA lowers prices (…) and expands the sale of cards, this (the illegalities) will eventually fall,” he said, while excusing himself saying that in Cuba “time is money.”