14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 17 December 2020 — “They are already going down Tulipán Street, in a few months the whole neighborhood will be connected,” a neighbor told me excitedly three years ago, as he counted the days until the arrival of the Nauta Hogar* service to our building. In the intervening time, the candid dreamer ended up emigrating to the United States and in-home internet connections still has not reached this 14-story apartment block.
Web browsing from Cuban homes has experienced the same fate as many other official campaigns, which generate a lot of initial noise and few effects in the medium and long term. But despite the failure, this December the official press, with great fanfare, has announced, that 4.73 out of every 100 houses on this island already have an internet connection.
The number looks even more insignificant when balancing it against the more than 3,885,000 households reported in the 2012 census, of which 183,000 now have the ability to access the World Wide Web through ADSL technology. The pilot test with 2,000 houses, carried out at the end of 2016 in Old Havana, now seems like a story told by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa) to put the gullible to sleep.
However, it is not only about the baby steps that the installation of the service has taken, but about the constant criticism that has surrounded its operation. Customers complain about drops in speed, the absence of a flat rate, and the high costs of hourly packages. What seemed like the perfect solution for professional work and entrepreneurship has been a source of dissatisfaction.
Not even this pandemic, which has kept us in check for more than nine months and forced millions of Cubans to work from home, has functioned as a spur for the expansion of a type of broadband connectivity that is already common in much of the world, even as it is being overtaken by more powerful and faster infrastructure. In this matter of access to the great World Wide Web, as almost always in everything, we are lagging behind.
Is this slowness the product only of the country’s economic problems and the often-repeated official argument that it is due to the US embargo? These kinds of explanations are not convincing and they sound more and more ridiculous, especially since it is known in many neighborhoods that the cables to offer the service have been installed for years now, and the only thing lacking for the data to run through them is the official will.
This little progress in the number of household connections points in another direction: the growing fear that the Cuban government has of the social and political implications of having a society that is increasingly online. The slowdown at Nauta Hogar seems to be based more on ideological reasons than technological ones, more on repression than on material resources
With access to the internet on mobile phones, the authorities on this island have verified that civic complaint can hardly be contained and the voices of its critics are loudly heard inside and outside national borders, while mockery and derision against officials and leaders grow by the minute.
On cell phones, the customer only has to buy a data package to surf, but at home internet requires a contract, the purchase from the state telecommunications monopoly of an ADSL modem, and family – not individual – use of the service.
*Translator’s note: “Nauta Home,” a service offered by the State (and only legal) telecommunications company in Cuba, ETECSA.
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