Cubans Lose Sleep Over Getting Cell Phone Service from Etecsa

Lines at the Cubacel office of the Holguin Business Center for the promotion ‘If you activate, you earn 30’. (Leonardo del Valle)

14ymedio biggerLeonardo del Valle / Mario J. Pentón, Holguín/ Miami , 24 April 2018 — The tumult in front of the offices of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba in Holguin is a sign of something good and the people in line know it.

“I have been waiting more than three years for the promotion If you activate, you earn 30. If this weren’t the case, I would never have been able to contract for the line I need so much to communicate with my sister who lives in Miami,” Onilda Peña Pérez, 71, tells 14ymedio.

A decade ago, Raul Castro authorized Cubans to contract for mobile phone lines, but the market has not been normalized. The lines that form each time Etecsa launches an offer have more to do with the commotion generated by an innovative product than with a service associated with an article that millions of people already enjoy.

The answer to this behavior lies in the high prices Etecsa’s customers must face. The phone and Internet monopoy on the Island charges 40 CUC for the activation of a cellular line and 0.35 CUC for a minute of conversation, so that an offer to receive 30 CUC of recharge for registering a number at the same price has overwhelmed the company’s points of sale.

“I have been dealing with the line for almost a week, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening, do you think that at my age and with my heart disease I can handle this mess?” Laments Onilda Pérez.

From the moment the telecommunications monopoly announced this promotion, that had not been offered for three years, hundreds of people began to make lists, to sleep outdoors and pay up to 10 CUC to others to stand in line for them.

The shortage of offices is no help in easing the madness that occurs with each promotion.

In Holguin, Etecsa allocated three offices to market the offer, which is in effect between the 9th and 13th of this month: the commercial office, the Telepunto located in front of the Calixto García park and the business center. This number is clearly insufficient for one of the provinces with the greatest trade in and demand for mobile phones, an Etecsa worker told 14ymedio.

Even though speaking for one minute via cell phone costs 280 times more than the same length of call from a landline, during the promotion period If you activate, you earn 30, the local Etecsa subdivision sold 33,000 lines.

“Today Holguin is, after Havana, the province where more mobile lines are activated, we have a total of 365,000 mobile lines, that is, four out of ten Holguineros has one and we are the third province by number of lines,” said an official.

Despite the good sales results, the conditions in which Etecsa agents work “are terrible,” according to the worker.

“Since 2014, the commercial deputy director of the company, Darquiris Sánchez Castro, has said that they were evaluating having the company occupy the dilapidated building of the Municipal Court of Holguín.” Four years later, the store continues to fall apart, while we work in overcrowded conditions,” she protests.

That’s another problem. In addition to being few, the facilities also lack the minimal comforts for the employees who spend their hours there. In addition, only a limited number of people at a time are allowed inside the premises, so the lines fill the portals outside, the sidewalks and even the street itself, with customers exposed to inclement weather.

Users also complain about the proliferation of fraudsters who try to take advantage of the circumstance, leading to cases of resellers in the line charging 45 CUC or scammers who fled after charging 35 CUC in exchange for offering access without standing in line.

“I think they could look for other alternatives to avoid tumults and scams like those that have occurred,” says Mario Rodríguez, a self-employed worker in the area who takes advantage of the opportunity to complain about the recharge promotions from abroad that, in his judgment, only serve to capture foreign currency without thinking about the domestic customer.

The use of cell phones for Cubans was authorized on April 14, 2008, in the midst of the first Raulist reforms to eliminate “absurd prohibitions.” As of 1993, only foreigners had been allowed to contract for mobile phone lines prohibitive prices ($140 per line).

The prices far exceed the official average salary that barely reaches 29.5 CUC per month (roughly the same in dollars), but Cubans are doing everything they can to get the money to get a line.

“The main problem for people is the price of the lines and the phones themselves, the equipment is very expensive from Etecsa and if you buy it from the outside you can end up with a cell phone with a false imei code and you lose your money,” says Rosa María Silva, an Etesca customer, in a telephone conversation from Cienfuegos.

The number of cell lines has grown exponentially. This year the country reached five million active lines, covering 43% of the country’s inhabitants. However, the country continues to lag behind Latin America, where the penetration of mobile phones reaches 65%.

The prices of the cell phones for sale from Etecsa are high, especially when compared to the cost of these devices in the informal market, fed by gifts from relatives who have emigrated to the United States.

A Samsung Galaxy J7 smartphone, valued at 129 dollars in the United States, costs 295 CUC in Cuba. An Alcatel Idol-3 brand phone, which can be purchased for $100 on the international market, is sold by the Cuban telecommunications monopoly for 280 CUC.

Etecsa also offers cheaper phones, such as the Huawei Y360-U31, valued at 70 CUC (In the international market it can be found for 56 dollars) and the Huawei Ascend Y-221, at 45 CUC. “Sometimes there are some phones available at 30 CUC, but then you have to go back to standing in these giant lines because people go out en masse to buy them,” Silva says sadly.


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