14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2023 — The directors of the Cuban communications monopoly, Etecsa, blamed the Unión Eléctrica (UNE) on Thursday for the poor state of telephone and Internet services in Sancti Spíritus, and for the terrible conditions of its radio bases. According to the officials, as long as the “difficulties” with electricity generation in the country are not solved, any investment to improve the telephone infrastructure will be in vain.
In response to the constant complaints of the espirituanos [people in Sancti Spíritus] about the collapse of Internet connectivity and even fixed line telephone service during the blackouts, Gustavo López, commercial head of Etecsa in the territory, told the provincial newspaper Escambray that the main problem lies in the instability of the electricity flow: “All the equipment of the telecommunications system works with electricity, and when this is lacking, since there are not enough backup sources, the interruptions and impacts begin.”
The official also explained that many of the radio bases and power plants – in charge of emitting, expanding and receiving telephone signals – had backup batteries to maintain service for a few hours, until the electricity returned. However, with the constant cuts, the batteries, which should last about four hours, hold less and less and are damaged faster.
Even if that money were available and the investment executed, it would not really be money well spent if the capacity of the electro-energy system is not recovered and normal generation restored
The largest telephone power plants, located in the key towns of the province and in the capital city, have higher capacity generators, but these do not ensure that the services are maintained for very long once the blackouts begin. The few hours that they function don’t benefit everyone either. “Of the 66 sites we have in the province that provide service today, only 26 are backed up by generators: less than 40%,” López explained.
“In the case of radio bases, there are 85 in the province, and just 30% have the support of a generator backup. The rest have only batteries and are greatly affected by the lack of electricity,” he added.
To Escambray’s question of why Etecsa did not invest in the repair or replacement of those batteries so that the population could enjoy better connectivity during power outages, López added that, currently, the company lacks the funds to make that type of large-scale investment, which would involve thousands of radio bases and power plants throughout the country. “But, even if that money were available and the investment executed, it wouldn’t really be money well spent if the capacity of the electro-energy system is not recovered and normal generation restored,” he said.
The official’s explanations do not promise relief for the population, which continues to suffer long hours of blackouts without being able to communicate. Lázaro, a 41-year-old espirituano, told 14ymedio that the situation of Internet interruptions during blackouts has lasted for more than a year.
“We have been suffering from both blackouts and Internet outages for a long time, and, when the power goes out, you don’t know what to do. Every time there is a power outage, which sometimes lasts up to 16 hours, the connection gets terrible and the phone starts jumping from 3G to 2G and gets very slow. At this point, 4G is not even available,” he explains.
“Internet speed drops ridiculously, and you can’t send a single message on WhatsApp. I have to go out on the street and walk around like a fool if I need to communicate urgently, looking for an antenna that isn’t in a blackout area. There are days when I don’t see the face of my daughter, who lives in Miami,” says Lázaro, who collected at least 18 reports to Etecsa in recent months complaining about the situation.
For about three months, when the power goes out, the fixed line also fails, and there is no way to call anywhere
To top it off, he says, “for about three months, when the power goes out, the fixed line also fails, and there is no way to call anywhere. Fortunately, when the power comes on, both the landline and the mobile are restored in a few minutes.”
The situation of Sancti Spíritus is similar to that in other provinces of the country. However, in rural areas, even with power, it is not possible to communicate comfortably. Reina, a former retired primary school teacher who lives in a small town next to the Central Highway in Villa Clara, regrets not being able to communicate with her son, who lives in Spain, due to the poor Internet connection.
“When I want to talk on the phone I have to walk to the little park, near the road, because the signal is better there. There isn’t any inside my house. If, on the other hand, the issue is the Internet, then things get complicated, because not even in the park is there a good signal,” the retiree said, adding that she takes advantage of all the trips to Santa Clara, the capital city of the province, to talk for a while with her son and grandchildren.
“When I know that I’m going to Santa Clara I make sure I have data and tell my son before so that he knows that I’m going to call him, because talking here without the voice or image being cut is very difficult. Sometimes my son gets very frustrated and ends up using the international call service. I tell him not to do it, because I know it’s expensive,” she adds.
According to Reina, about four years ago they were promised an antenna closer to town so that they would have Internet coverage, but the promise has not yet been fulfilled. “I hope that one day they will do it, because it’s very difficult to communicate. In recent weeks, when they have cut off the power for a longer time, we have been incommunicado for almost whole days.”
This Thursday, the UNE announced a deficit of 465 megawatts (MW) for the entire country that, compared to the 973 MW on Wednesday, seemed enviable. With these forecasts, it is evident that both Etecsa and the Electric Union have few answers for Lázaro and Reina who, in the current situation, and with the authorities pointing at each other, will have to look for their own remedies.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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