Getting online is damn near impossible in Cuba -- unless you're very rich. That's because the state-run run telecom company, Etecsa, has historically limited access and charges exorbitant fees for connectivity. Faced with growing international pressure, the company is finally going to add Wi-Fi hotspots and drop prices -- but not by much.
Internet in Cuba was expensive and rare throughout the government's last bastion of communism. Now, Etecsa says it will install 35 Wi-Fi hotspots in parks and recreational areas around Cuba. Prices to connect will drop from the current price of $US4 an hour to $US2 an hour.
Since the average salary in Cuba is only about $US20 a month, that's still pretty damn expensive. Nevertheless, it's an improvement over a couple years ago when there was just one internet cafe in Old Havana. Things have been so bad there in recent years that young Cubans have taken things into their own hands and built an elaborate mesh network to create their own thriving underground internet. They also pass internet content around via USB sticks.
Things did get a little bit better earlier this year, when Cuban artist Kcho installed a free Wi-Fi hotspot in a Havana cultural centre. (That's a young Cuban -- and apparently a fan of the United States -- enjoying the free Wi-Fi pictured above.) Of course, you'd need to live in Havana or travel to Havana in order to enjoy the free connection. The fact that the government is finally connecting the rest of the island is an encouraging step forward.
All that said, it's unclear exactly how quickly the Cuban government will conduct the expansion and how well the connections will actually work. "Their model was, 'Nobody gets Internet,'" Ted Hencken, a professor at Baruch College and expert on the Cuban internet, told The New York Times. "Now their model is, 'We're going to bring prices down and expand access, but we are going to do it as a sovereign decision and at our own speed.'" Regardless of how things pan out, some expensive internet is still better than no internet at all.