14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 January 2016 – A few lights blink in Julian’s living room, on San Ignacio Street between Teniente Rey and Amargura in Old Havana. This week he was given a router to connect to the internet, as a part of a pilot project being carried out in the area. However, the old man has no computer and hasn’t managed to enter the great World Wide Web.
The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) has chosen 2,000 users in the People’s Council districts of Catedral and Plaza Vieja for a free experiment in web connectivity from their homes. The requirement was to have a landline, but many residents who qualified do not have the technology to enjoy the service.
“I leave it on all the time so it doesn’t get damp,” says Julian, of the apparatus whose LEDs twinkle in his modest home. The old man dreams that they will also offer a “time payment plan” so he can get a laptop, just like was done “with the purchase of the refrigerator.”
So far, navigating from home has been a privilege reserved for high officials, highly trusted professionals and foreigners living in Cuba. Those connections were established through the old-fashioned dial-up method, but the new test is being done with the faster ADSL lines.
The requirement for enrollment in the pilot was to have a landline, but many residents do not have the technology to enjoy the service
For Julián, the main benefit would be to connect with his family living abroad, although he acknowledges that, “Really it’s all the same to me to have the internet or not.”
The experience of Liensey Martínez, a young resident of Teniente Rey Street between San Ignacio and Cuba, is different. He has a computer and with the delivery of the router, a TP-Link brand, he is able to also put in a home wifi network to connect to a tablet or cellphone.
“The connection works well, sometimes it gets slow, but it almost never freezes,” says Martinez, who operates a private business in his home renting rooms to tourists. “We benefit a lot because we make almost all reservations online and now it is more convenient. Before we had to go to the Plaza Hotel or a Wi-Fi zone,” he says.
The entrepreneur details that the pilot test includes 30 hours of free navigation during the month of January and a similar amount for February. However, “I can also enter my Nauta navigation account using my username and password,” and use the balance deposited in that service.
The experiment will conclude on 28 February, but the hourly rates for navigation packages have not been made public. “People say there will be packages of 30, 60 and 100 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUCs, which are about the same in dollars) depending on the hours but that’s just rumors that hear,” Martinez says.
Cuba is one of the countries in the world with the lowest rates of internet penetration; as of July 2015 the state telecommunications monopoly has enabled public Wi-Fi hotspots
Old Havana is one of the country’s municipalities with the most wifi zones, a good part of them located in the hotels, but there is also one on the corner of the centrally located Obispo Street at San Ignacio. But the connection from these points remains expensive for most wallets, although Etecsa recently lowered the price of one hour of Internet browsing from 2.00 CUC to 1.50, in a country where the average monthly salary barely exceeds the equivalent of 25.00 CUC.
Cuba is one of the countries in the world with the lowest rates of internet penetration; as of July 2015 the state monopoly of telecommunications has enabled public Wi-Fi hotspots, which now number more than 200 throughout the country. According to official figures about 250,000 users connect in these areas daily.
In recent weeks antennas for a wireless connection have also been installed in in several places along Havana’s Malecon and the company plans to extend service all along the coastal boulevard. The wifi zones at Hola Ola, La Piragua, 12 and Malecón, 3rd and B, and Fuente de la Juventud are already operational.
However, eyes are watching Old Havana. Cubans are waiting for 2017 to be the year they can finally become internet users.