Cuba’s Internet Is in Its Death Throes and the State Monopoly Answers: We Have Instability in the Service

Cuba’s state communications monopoly, Etecsa, continues to make enemies due to slow navigation. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 21 July 2023 — Neivy responds reluctantly. It is probably the umpteenth call that she has taken this Friday from the customer service desk of the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). Faced with a client’s complaint about the lousy internet connection, the employee limits herself to repeating: “We have instability in the service.” Seconds later she hangs up the phone even though the conversation isn’t over.

The state monopoly Etecsa continues to make enemies. One of the most unpopular state companies in Cuba, comparable only in rejection to the Unión Eléctrica, it charges for a service that it barely offers. Access to the web through cellphones has become an ordeal for customers, captives in a market that does not allow competition with other companies.

“Thank you for everything, Etecsa,” user Adalberto Orta Pozo commented sarcastically this morning on Twitter. Next to his words was an image with a “FAST” icon, showing that his internet speed was just 340 kilobits per second (Kbps). At that speed, the ability of this Cuban to comfortably navigate the great world web, upload photos and videos or interact with others on social networks, is almost nil.

His publication attracted comments from dozens of ETECSA customer. Some took the opportunity to carry out the speed test and the numbers in various parts of the Island were even worse. In the newsroom of 14ymedio, at the stroke of noon, it was barely possible to connect at 160 Kbps. At that rate, Facebook pages do not load, it is impossible to watch videos online and readers are annoyed because the responses to their messages arrive late or never arrive at all.

At 3:22 p.m., the connection was a barely perceptible pulse of 51 Kbps at the headquarters of this newspaper. If this data is taken as an indicator of life, it would be necessary to conclude that the Internet is dying or almost dead in Cuba.

In addition, all these problems are happening seven months after the Arimao fiber optic submarine cable was connected between the port of Cienfuegos and the French island of Martinique. By April of this year, the first tests of its operation had already begun, but since then no senior official has publicly offered the activation schedule for the new connection.

The cable, a project between Cuba’s State-owned company and the French company Orange, extends over 2,500 kilometers and, according to the executive president of ETECSA, Tania Velázquez, would allow the expansion and diversification of the capabilities of the Internet connection and broadband services. When Cubans complained about poor connectivity a few months ago, some official voices always promised “here comes the cable” to appease the critics.

However, when the fiber reached our shores and the tests of its operation began the access to the web continued to deteriorate to the point that every day the connection seems to get worse. The discomfort of customers is immense, but the telecommunications monopoly only responds with evasions to its more than 7 million cell phone users.

Despite the poor service, ETECSA continues to launch monthly top-up offers with bonuses that include packages of several gigabytes to surf the web. “I lose the majority because the bandwidth is so low that even seeing an animated gif is difficult for me,” laments Yosiel, a young resident of Jovellanos, Matanzas.

From Miami, Yosiel’s family buys the top-up “every time they offer one with a bonus,” he explains. His sister contracted the Netflix service for him so that he does not have to watch the intractable official television programming, but “the image freezes.” The young man has dark circles under his eyes: “I stay up until after two in the morning to see if the connection improves.”

It is hard to believe that connectivity on the Island is at this point. The damage to the economy is enormous. “I have a food delivery business, customers can contact me by WhatsApp or Messenger but many messages arrive late and I lose money because of that,” laments Zuri del Prado, entrepreneur and manager of a cafeteria-restaurant in Havana.

“If I could contract with another company, I would do it because what is happening directly affects my pocket and my credibility,” he adds. “A few days ago we made a dinner for six people to deliver to a family, when we arrived they told me that it was a mistake because they had sent the message the day before and it had arrived 24 hours later. We lost the investment.”

A report published five years ago by The Havana Consulting Group calculated that in the period between 2018 and 2024 ETECSA’s total billing for cell phones would be approximately 4.431 billion dollars.

In this equation, however, it seems that the only one that does not lose is Etecsa.

A report published five years ago by The Havana Consulting Group calculated that in the period between 2018 and 2024, ETECSA’s total billing for cell phones would be approximately 4.431 billion dollars. It is very likely that this figure will be even higher due to the opening to web browsing from cell phones in December 2018.

How is it possible that a monopoly that obtains profits of such volume has not made the necessary investments to offer a quality service to its clients? How long is ETECSA going to continue to behave as an entity that does Cubans a favor by connecting them with the world, rather than as a public servant that owes information, transparency and efficiency to its users?

These are questions that remain unanswered. Those who expected that details about the Arimao cable would be given in the sessions of the National Assembly this week and that the ETECSA executives would apologize for the discomfort they cause their customers, kept their eyes on the television screen without ever hearing a prognosis or some mea culpa Apparently these are not issues that matter to the deputies even though they make millions of people on the Island angry every day.


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