Minimum Restaurant Charge to Use the Internet / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)
Facade of the Café Ciudad in Camaguey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 14 November 2015 — The number of wireless zones in the country continues to increase, as reported this week by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA), but little is said about improving conditions for websurfers. In the city of Camagüey, the web browsing service is characterized by instability and inconvenience for users, to which is added the profit of some State establishments.

Café Ciudad modified its rules about food purchases on finding itself in the area covered by the antennas installed in Agramonte Park. Now, the restaurant requires a minimum food purchase of 5 Cuban convertible pesos (equivalent to a quarter of the average monthly salary) in order to connect to the Internet from inside. The “offering” does not include the right to connect devices to the electrical outlets, a detail that, along with the high prices, has annoyed patrons.

To learn the reasons that led to the adoption of these measures, 14ymedio approached Elizabeth Napoles, brigade chief of Café Ciudad. “We had to apply this measure because it was already too much, the whole world came and sat here,” explained the functionary, who noted that “they ask for a coffee and they stay for hours, but this is a place to eat, we have to generate income.”

Those who do not have the required sum to remain in the place choose to sit on the stairs, in doorways and nearby sidewalks. “It’s awkward and uncomfortable trying to write a message or have a videoconference with the noise of cars and people passing by,” comments Gustavo, 33, an engineer who frequently uses the services of the WiFi zone in Camaguey.

However, Café Ciudad does not seem willing to modify its pricing policy. Naples justifies the decision because the place has been a victim of certain incidents of “social indiscipline” since the opening of the WiFi network. She says “the situation came to be very difficult; we have to call on the police to get people to leave the tables.”

The brigade chief declared that “this doesn’t mean you have to pay five convertible pesos to remain at the table, but this is a bonus if you eat that much.” With this much money a customer can “drink five Cristal beers, or four Bucaneros and a soft drink, for example,” she points out.

For Naples it is intolerable what happened before the implementation of the new tariff, when “businessmen sat and spent the day connecting one device to another, and they left with more than 50 CUC in their pockets and just bought a soft drink,” she explained, referring to connection resellers who sell shared access to a single account on the Nauta Internet service (by creating a hotspot on their own device).

The usual Café Ciudad customers have screamed to high heaven about the measure. “Now, if you’re having a coffee and you need to connect for a moment, you have leave and this means you lose your table,” Wilfredo Aróstegui Quesada told this newspaper. “Not everyone has enough money to subscribe to this option, the price of two convertible pesos* for an hour of connection is already high.”

The place used to be the meeting place for Camaguey celebrities and the local artists. Rafael Hernández believes that the implementation of this minimum service is unfair: “It seems to be that ETECSA should enable spaces like this to offer its service free,” says the independent artist.

Café Ciudad employees wash their hands of it and say the command “came down directly from the provincial capital’s Tourism Company.” According to Elizabeth Naples, this policy has not solved the problem because “we always face some customers who pretend to be playing on their cellphone” while “staying connected, enjoying the comfort of our establishment,” adds the official.

*Translator’s note: That is, the 5 CUC a customer must spend on food and drink does not include a free wifi connection.