For decades, the communist country of Cuba has been trapped in its own little bubble, watching the world experience the digital Internet revolution from arm’s length. But ever since Raul Castro came to power, many regulations and restrictions on technology have lessened. Now, after a two-month introductory program, Cubans are able to access the Internet from the comforts of their own home.
Problem is, few Cuban households are actually buying Internet plans due to slow speeds and high prices.
While many Americans primarily use the Internet to update their social media accounts and to stream videos online, online technology has plenty of tangible benefits for a nation’s economy. For instance, digital experts say that if just one-fifth of American households switched to online billing, then the country would save a 151 million pounds of paper.
While Americans might have expected Cubans to jump at the chance to finally get online, those in Cuba are just getting accustomed to the Internet.
Currently, only 360 households have purchased the plan since it came available March 1. This Internet connection is provided solely by the state. All the plans are for 30 hours of access a month, but the lowest package offers a 128-kilobyte speed for the equivalent of $15 U.S. dollars or a higher speed for $105. For perspective, $105 is about one-fourth of a typical monthly salary for the average Cuban.
Before these options, Cuba only granted Internet access to foreign journalists and diplomats, and only via a governmental authorization. Free Internet was provided in 2015 with the introduction of 240 Wi-Fi spots across the island, but if Cubans couldn’t access these hot spots, they could only go to state “Internet Clubs.” These state-controlled online cafes would put them back about $6 to $8 per hour for incredibly slow Internet.
Today, Cuba’s only source for an Internet connection is through an undersea fiber-optic cable that is connected to Venezuela. This cable does boast a very high speed, most likely due to the fact that there just aren’t many users yet.
The Cuban government blames the lack of Internet access to the island on the U.S. economic embargo. The government believes that large global IT companies are afraid to introduce their systems in Cuba because of strict American trading laws.
So until more technology companies come to the island — or the government decides to invest more heavily in digital infrastructure — many Cubans will have to resort to sitting in public areas to connect to the world with a feeble Wi-Fi connection.