Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet access in the world, with only 1.7 percent of the population able to go online regularly. According to Boris Moreno, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Telecommunications, the telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba is inadequate because the U.S. embargo prevents Cuba from connecting to the neighboring United States via underwater cables; instead, they depend on less reliable, expensive satellite connections to friendlier countries like Italy and Canada.
As a result of their limited bandwidth, Cuba treats Internet access as a limited resource, restricting its use to government, educational, and cultural groups—and, of course, tourists who can pay for it. Cuban citizens who can go online generally have access only to Cuba’s intranet, not the World Wide Web. While internet access is available in cyber-cafes and the lobbies of luxury hotels, the $6/hour price-tag excludes most Cubans, whose average salary is $20 a month. Black market connections are available, but strictly punished. Despite these challenges, Cuba is experiencing a proliferation of independent bloggers, many of whom are clamoring for less restricted, more affordable internet access.
In efforts to increase connectivity, Cuba and Venezuela are constructing a 1550-kilometer underwater fiber optic cable, which will connect northern Venezuela with east Cuba. (Connecting to the Cancun-Miami cable, which is only 32 kilometers from the Havana seawall, is not an option due to the U.S. embargo.) Construction will begin in January, and should be completed by 2010. With a 640-gigabyte capacity, the cable will increase Cuba’s transmission capacity by 3,000 times, and eliminate its dependence on satellite communication from other countries.
While the cable should make internet use more affordable, many wonder whether it will benefit the average Cuban. The government’s official position is that internet access is restricted due to limited capacity, but Cuban bloggers like Cuba Verdad and Generation Y wonder if the restrictions are in place to control Cuban’s access to information. At Generation Y, Yoani Sánchez writes, “To all of us who complain about the poor connectivity found on the Island, they have an argument to shut us up: ‘We have to wait until the cable is ready’… I hope that at least a small fiber of its content reaches my freelance blogger hands.” According to Sánchez, the cable will only be worth the wait if it brings internet access for all Cubans.