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How Cuban people are getting access to the internet in public places

How Cuban people are getting access to the internet in public places

Posted by PanamericanWorld on July 29, 2015

Choosing a company, making a couple of phone calls, signing a contract and then simply accessing the internet at home is how thousands of people all over the world search the web. But not for Cubans. Not even after the thaw between the island and the United States.

However, on July 2, the national telecommunications company ETECSA launched a new service that allows Cubans to gain access to the internet in 35 public places for two Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) – approximately $1.80 – an hour. In a country where people make an average of $27 a month, this is still a high price to pay.

In order to connect to WIFI_Etecsa, Cubans must buy a temporary card or have a permanent account on Nauta, a national service that provides access to email on a smartphone and internet in public places through a fixed contract. In both cases, the presentation of a national identification card is required, creating a perfect system to collect user navigation data and to monitor communications.

La Rampa, one of the most visited public internet spots in Havana, is crowded all day long by predominantly young people. This wifi network allows for up to 100 users to be connected at the same time while, in smaller cities, the numbers drop to 50.

Nauta has over 800 000 customers and and offers speeds of up to one megabit per second, per user, in wifi zones — certainly a huge improvement over the previous 56 Kb per second on dial-up connections. Still, buying a temporary card is really hard. ETECSA´s inefficient offices are usually packed with customers trying to recharge prepaid cellphones, paying fixed lines, and buying new phones. To make things worse, very often people wait in long lines before realizing that the seller has run out of cards.

As a result, a black market of prepaid cards has emerged. “How much for a card?” I asked to a woman walking over La Rampa with more than ten prepaid cards in her hands. “2.50”, she said. “I didn’t bring too many today, but they usually sell really fast”, she added. More than five other people were also selling cards at the same time.

Applications such as Skype are blocked and it is hard to access to live streaming services. Still, people are figuring out other ways to use voice and video chat to cut down the costs of international phone calls.

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