The Internet in Cuba: An Overview

In Cuba, internet access is severely limited for average citizens. The vast majority of homes do not have an internet connection, and most Cubans rely on public wifi hotspots for access. Despite these challenges, there a several legitimate and less-than-legitimate ways that Cubans have access to the internet. We’ll be discussing each of these in depth in future articles:

  1. The Legal Intranet: Most Cubans work for the government, and if their role requires internet access, they usually get access to the country’s sprawling intranet. In the past, this only had access to government-run websites, but they have begun to open up to sites outside the country, like Gmail and Facebook. University students are granted access to the intranet, but this is monitored, restricted, and usually comes with a limit on the amount of time students are able to use it each month.
  2. Private access: With government approval and hefty installation and usage fees, citizens can purchase private access to the internet. The most prominent example of this is the studio of the Cuban artist Kcho, who also received permission to provide access to regular Cubans over wifi and on google chromebooks. There’s also talk of private internet access expanding into people’s homes in Old Havana soon as the government tests the viability.
  3. Hotels: Most hotels provide internet access for a price up to $10 an hour, or roughly half the monthly salary of an average Cuban. Due to the price, and often the doormen, this internet is restricted to tourists.
  4. Wifi Hotspots: In 2015, the government began opening up public wifi hotspots in 35 places throughout the country, mostly in parks and around Havana and other major cities. To access, users must have a government-issued email account or purchase a one hour internet card for $2 at a government-run store, or less-than legally from one of the card resellers wandering around the parks.
  5. Internet Cafes: A dying breed, these began closing even before the wifi hotspots became available. There is only one left in Old Havana, which runs upwards of $5 per hour.
  6. Person-to-person: Cubans share files directly with each other, whether it’s over USB sticks or the bluetooth on their phones. This is one of the most common ways Cubans install apps: sharing them through apps like Zapya.
  7. The Weekly Package: No article about the internet in Cuba would be complete without mentioning El Paquete Semanal, or the Weekly Package. This one-terabyte hard drive is updated weekly and physically distributed throughout the country for dealers and customers to copy. It carries the latest movies, TV shows, articles, magazines, games–with the exception of politics and pornography.
  8. The Illegal Intranet: Since about 2006, a group of friends began connecting areas of Havana via wifi routers and internet cables. Called SNET, the network originally started as a way to play video games, but it quickly grew beyond that. Connected Cubans using it to illegally share website, videos, and any other data–as long as it’s approved by the operators.

Despite the lack of easy access to the internet, Cubans have found many ways to connect to others and get the information they need. Of course, none of these are simple, complete, or free, and many of them are either too expensive or inaccessible to most Cubans. But access is improving and Cuba is working to make the internet available to all.

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