14ymedio, Havana, 16 June 2018 — The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) is going through difficult times on the island. In just 15 days, the state monopoly has been confronted by its customers twice on social networks with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet, demanding a reduction in prices and improvements in services.
The second day of protests took place this Saturday, just two weeks after June 1st when the #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet hashtag rose to number one on the Island, even above other traditional hashtags from the government. Unlike on the first launch of the Twitter protest, on June 15th Etecsa officials prepared to counter the online protest.
In 24 hours the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet became a Trending Topic in Cuba, with messages published by a wide variety of users of the popular social network. Students, computer engineers, clients of the domestic service known as Nauta Hogar, independent journalists and activists were some of those who denounced Etecsa’s high prices.
In return, the state monopoly and several official spokespersons spread messages with labels such as #CubaInformatiza (Cuba computerized) and #CubaMasInternetvsBlock (Cuba More Internet vs. the Blockade [i.e. US Embargo]). The official accounts of Etecsa also published infographics and figures on the evolution of mobile telephone services, internet connectivity from homes and wifi zones, together with data regarding web browsing from mobile phones.
Inventario (Inventory), a statistical analysis project, counted the participation in the protest, identifying a total 1,061 unique users, 7,412 tweets in which the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet was used, of which 2,256 were original tweets and 5,156 retweets. At the end of the day, the most used hashtags turned out to be #bajenlospreciosdeinternet with 2,675; #cuba with 322; #tarifaplananautahogar [rate plan for home internet service] with 56; #etecsa with 47; #aldeatwitter [twitter village] with 47; #bastaya (enough already) with 30; #cubainformatiza (computerized Cuba) with 24; #abajotodoslosbloqueos (down with all blockades) with 24; #abajoelbloqueo (down with the blockade) with 19; and 18 for #cubanos plus 16 for #somoscuba (we are Cuba), according to the same source.
The hashtags generated a heated controversy on the networks. On one side were the customers who demanded a decrease in the prices of services, especially data packages to connect to the internet from mobile phones, as well as an improvement in the operations of the Nauta Hogar domestic connection and the rates of the navigation from the wifi areas, currently 1 CUC per hour (roughly equivalent to $1 US, or nearly a day’s pay in Cuba).
Dariel de la Rosa Pérez, who hashtagged Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel in his tweet, posted:
“We want to be connected, it is a basic right in this century. We can’t have a country where its rulers say the country is ’of the humble, with the humble and for the humble’ if they have services with prices that only the rich can afford. #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet @DiazCanelB
— Dariel De la Rosa Pérez (@darielrp) June 15, 2019
The data packages to surf the Internet from the mobile phones sold by Etecsa the range from 7 CUC for 600 megabytes to 30 CUC for 4 gigabytes, the latter the equivalent of the entire monthly salary of a professional.
Users such as one posting under the name Chawi alluded on Twitter to the subsidizing of cellphone balances for employees of Etecsa and other officials who were very active in the social network with official hashtags. “Etecsa seems to have recharged its workers’ accounts so that #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet does not trend. That is a sign that there is concern, we are doing well!! We will continue until we are heard,” he wrote.
Internet user Abel Cartaya, meanwhile, questioned why those who demand a reduction in the Internet rate are branded as “traitors” and added that following this logic, those who demand “direct or multi-party elections will have to ask for diplomatic immunity.” — Abel Cartaya (@AbelCartaya) June 15, 2019
The journalist and director of the independent media Barrio Journalism, Elaine Díaz, also joked about the unusual frequency of publication on Saturday from several official accounts. “I propose that all citizen Twitter protests occur on weekends. We pay the high Internet prices and they have to work Saturday and Sunday,” she wrote.
On the other side of the controversy were the Twitter accounts that promoted the official hashtags and accused the protestors of responding to a conspiracy launched from the United States and of supporting the Helms-Burton Act.
Cuba’s Minister of Communications, warned that the current Constitution “defends the democratization of cyberspace [and] condemns its use (…) for purposes contrary to the above, including the subversion and destabilization of sovereign nations.” pic.twitter.com/emF8XUydWQ — Jorge Luis Perdomo (@JorgeLuisPerd20) 15 de junio de 2019
Several customers responded to the minister questioning the real willingness of the authorities to extend the use of the internet within Cuba. The authorities have prioritized what they call the “social use” of the network in universities, work centers and wifi zones, but every day there are more voices demanding to be able to connect from homes and with more favorable prices.
Internet browsing from cellphones began on December 6 on the island and in its almost six months of implementation complaints from users have accumulated, due to high rates, constant crashes and poor coverage in several areas of the country.
In the virtual protest on Saturday, netizens also complained about the bandwidth congestion at various times of the day and the poor customer service that responds — most of the time — with evasive answers. However, it was the prices that dominated the discussion along with the need to depend on family members abroad to top-up the accounts of their relatives in Cuba, due to the low salaries paid on the Island.
Numerous Cubans from the diaspora joined the Twitter protest on the grounds that they are financing the connectivity of their families on the island through top-ups for cellphones and web browsing. A presence that the official spokesmen indicated as proof that the protest had been “fabricated from the outside.”
Several of the users who participated in the protest announced that they will maintain the use of the hashtag and that they plan new tweets of this type for the coming weeks.
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