Monday, February 24, 2020

Mass-produced propaganda -- a Cuban example

An "author" named Admin posted over 1,000
articles in seven languages in two weeks.

Earlier this month, Google sent me several notifications for an article entitled "The Internet Is Widely Accessible in Cuba. Why Is the US Insisting It Isn’t?" I checked it out and found that Reese Erlich had posted it on, a left-leaning Web site, on February 12. On the 13th, published a shortened version of the article and published the original version on the 17th. These were all in English and both Salon and Cubasi credited Truthout.

I also received notification of an article entitled "Internet es ampliamente accesible en Cuba. ¿Por qué Estados Unidos insiste en que no lo es?" that was published February 13 at

It turns out that DiarioDeLatinos also published English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Russian versions of the same article on the 13th. The seven versions of the article were all written by the same author, Admin, with a little help from Google Translate, which rendered "New York Times" as "New York Instances" in the first paragraph. Admin is prolific -- he or she had posted 1,072 articles on as of the morning of February 18th and was registered on February 4th. The registrant organization is Domains By Proxy, LLC, which is located at the GoDaddy Headquarters building in Scottsdale, Arizona:
Registry Registrant ID: Not Available From Registry
Registrant Name: Registration Private
Registrant Organization: Domains By Proxy, LLC
Registrant Street:
Registrant Street: 14455 N. Hayden Road
Registrant City: Scottsdale
Registrant State/Province: Arizona
Registrant Postal Code: 85260
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: +1.4806242599
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax: +1.4806242598
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email:
Registry Admin ID: Not Available From Registry
Admin Name: Registration Private
Private domain registration is reminiscent of banks facilitating money laundering. I wonder what else Domains By Proxy is hiding.

Finally, I took a look at what the censors at Cubasi deleted when they edited the original article. They cut mention of tools like the Signal encrypted messaging app and VPNs, the fact that Cubans can download El Nuevo Herald, and Cuba’s blocking of Web sites. They also deleted references to dissidents like Yoani Sanchez or Ladies in White and admissions that only 38 percent of Cubans are connected to the web compared to 70 percent for all of Latin America, 3G wireless is being installed in Cuba while much of the world is switching over to 5G, Cuba lacks convertible currency, Cubans don’t have the bandwidth to stream video and El Paquete is “by far” the most popular technology for Cubans.

This was not Cuba's first foray into online propaganda. In 2013, Eliécer Ávila described Operation Truth in which 1,000 university students were writing social media posts favoring the government and working as "trolls," disrupting discussion and attacking those who question the government and last month Granma posted a propaganda/conspiracy article about US subversion.

I wonder how much Internet propaganda the Cuban government sponsored between 2013 and 2020 and I worry about the fact that any government could do the same.

Update 2/26/2020

A reader sent me a link to a claim of sock-puppet trolls working for the Cuban government and another pointed out that the term of art is "Ciberclaria" and if you Google that term, you will find more examples like this or this.

(This post is mirrored on my class blog covering Internet applications, implications and technology).

Friday, January 10, 2020

Cuban fake news about some fake news

Four CITF winners (source)
When the Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) was established, it was touted as being formed for the benefit of the Cuban people, but that was fake news.

Granma recently posted a Trump-worthy article charging that the U. S. finances mercenary groups and gives scholarships to train young Cubans as fake leaders in a dirty Internet war on Cuba. The article also alleges that activists who live in Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia have tried to manipulate Cuban opinion on the constitutional referendum using the hashtag #YoVotoNo on Twitter and it claims we do similar things in Iran and Bolivia.

I am not sufficiently naive to think that the US has never meddled with the Internet in Cuba and have blogged extensively about the Alan Gross case, Zunzuneo and the attempted smuggling of satellite receivers disguised as surfing equipment, but the claims made in this article are bogus. It is telling that there there are no links in the story -- nothing to substantiate any of the claims -- and I have first-hand knowledge of the central claim that:
In February of 2018, the so-called Cuba Internet Task Force was created, following instructions outlined in a Presidential memorandum on national security, released June 16, 2017. The website Razones de Cuba has documented that the CIA’s Political Action Group and institutions on the task force have highly qualified specialists who, based on models previously developed through Big Data, sent sector-specific messages to Cubans.
The CITF established two subcommittees, one to explore and develop recommendations on the role of the media and the free, unregulated flow of information through independent media in Cuba and the other to explore and develop recommendations for expanding Internet access in Cuba. I attended the first meeting of the Internet-access subcommittee, participated in the online discussions of both and reviewed and commented on their draft recommendations.

The Task Force Final Report is short -- only 1,904 words on 6 double-spaced pages. (This post is 631 words). It consists of a summary of the state of the Cuban Internet and regulatory policy followed by nine fairly obvious, tersely stated recommendations. I am unaware of any impact it has had on U. S. or Cuban action or policy.

The CIA and its Political Action Group (PAG) are not mentioned in the report and were never mentioned during the discussion leading up to it. No form of cyberattack or propaganda was discussed by the Task Force or called for in the final report. In short, this was a bland report and the Task Force was a show for Florida voters.

The quote regarding the CIA and PAG are taken from the English language version of the story. It is noteworthy that it has been edited out of the Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese versions. Each version credits the same author and I reached out to him asking about this but did not receive a reply. Furthermore, the article credits the Razones de Cuba Web site with having documented this CIA PAG meddling. I searched their Web site for terms like Grupo de trabajo, grupo de tarea and and 1984, but got no hits.

You get the picture -- the CITF did not work with the CIA and this Granma article does not document any of the charges it makes. In fact, it includes no links or quotes -- just assertions. When the CITF was established, it was touted as being formed for the benefit of the Cuban people, but that was fake news. It was a political move, intended to give Trump a boost in Florida. It also provided Cuba with propaganda fodder for articles like this one and strengthened the economic and political ties between Cuba and Russia and China.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Could ETECSA at least talk with SpaceX?

Consider the following:
Could ETECSA at least talk with SpaceX?

Update 1/9/2020

For a Spanish translation of this post, click here.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

5G for fixed connectivity in Cuba

ETECSA reports that over 110,100 Cuban households have DSL connectivity using their Nauta Hogar service. There are also shared facilites -- 986 WiFi hotspots (127 in Havana) and 347 Navigation Rooms (44 in Havana) with 1,309 computers (304 in Havana).

These services are dead-ends on the road to hoped-for "computerization." The Cuban population is around 11 million so, after three years, roughly one person in 100 lives in a Nauta home and the services are limited geographically since DSL is only available in the vicinity of telephone central offices and WiFi hotspots and Navigation Rooms are at fixed locations. Furthermore, the connection speeds are low and the prices high.

When the U. S. began making fixed Internet connections to homes, schools, businesses, etc., we had an installed inventory of relatively new last-mile phone lines, television cables, and longer fiber links and we have been expanding that infrastructure for forty years. Cuba does not have those assets and, even if they were willing to invite foreign investment, the gap would continue to grow. (Furthermore, I wouldn't wish a foreign monopoly or duopoly on anyone).

Could 5G wireless help with Cuban fixed connectivity?

Medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellite Internet service provider SES has been providing Cuban international transit for two years, so they have an established relationship with ETECSA. SES also provides 2, 3 and 4G mobile backhaul and managed mobile service in places like Chad, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea. (They also offer WiFi hotspots as a service).

SES is planning to offer the same services plus focused small-cell connectivity for 5G networks when their next-generation mPower satellites come online. SES has 20 MEO satellites in orbit today and in 2021 they will be adding seven next-generation mPower MEO satellites with over 4,000 shapeable and steerable beams that can be switched under program control, giving the constellation over 30,000 dynamically reconfigurable beams and over 10 Tbps capacity. The mPower satellites will work in conjunction with their current MEO satellites and their geostationary satellites.

Expected Starlink coverage, mid-2020
How about using low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for 5G backhaul? Several companies are developing LEO Internet-service constellations, but SpaceX's Starlink constellation has a clear lead. Simulation of their announced plans shows that they will have coverage over Cuba by around the middle of next year and after that capacity will grow steadily as they launch new satellites. SpaceX plans to focus on the US market at first, but Elon Musk is an iconoclast who refused to serve Trump and I would encourage ETECSA to at least reach out to SpaceX.

So much for backhaul and system integration, how about connectivity to the thousands of local small cells that would be required for fixed broadband? That would require a lot of local fiber, which could be planned and installed by local people. Decentralization of the design and installation of the edge of a fixed 5G network would require more than capital and new technology -- it would require a political shift to a telecommunication policy focused on economic and social goals. Unfortunately, that seems less likely today than it seemed before the confiscation of SNET and other community networks.

Cuba is emphasizing and investing in mobile connectivity today and phones and tablets are fine for applications like content consumption, online shopping, social interaction, and Twitter-style politics, but businesses, schools, content creators, software developers, etc. need larger computers with fast, fixed connectivity. If Karl Marx were alive today, he might say mobile phones were the opiate of the people.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Questions raised by the takeover of SNET, Havana's community network

Last May, Cuba's Ministry of Communication (MINCOM) announced resolutions 98 and 99 limiting wireless transmission power and outdoor cables that made community networks like Havana's SNET, illegal. Since SNET was the world's largest community network that did not have Internet access, implementation of the resolutions was postponed for 60 days for negotiations between SNET administrators and MINCOM. The negotiations have ended with a decision to transfer SNET's services and content to ETECSA, Cuba's government-monopoly ISP, and to provide access through Cuba's nationwide chain of 611 Youth Computer Clubs (YCCs), as illustrated by the diagram shown here.

The new regulations authorize people to install WiFi equipment in their homes and businesses in order to access the YCCs, represented by the blue building, and public WiFi hotspots, represented by the sunny outdoor location. The diagram also shows cables running from the YCCs to larger buildings that may represent ETECSA data centers, wireless Internet points of presence and homes with DSL connectivity.

The government says SNET "will grow with the increased infrastructure” of the YCCs and ETECSA and claims that the intent of Resolutions 98 and 99 is to expand Internet access, but many in the SNET community fear losing access to and control of the assets they have created. You can see their point of view by searching Twitter for the hashtags #YoSoySnet and #FuerzaSnet. The protesters (and I) have many questions about the takeover, like:
  • While some testing has begun, this conversion will take time and resources -- why not allow parallel operation of SNET during the cutover to ETECSA/YCC?
  • How many homes are close enough to connect to current WiFi hotspots and YCCs?
  • Given the current planned infrastructure expansion, how long will it take to re-connect all current SNET users?
  • How many of the 611 YCCs have fiber links and what is the schedule for connecting the others?
  • Are rooftop and other outside antennas legal (MINCOM FAQ 18)?
  • Will wireless network installer be added to the list of self-employment occupations (MINCOM FAQ 19)?
  • What provisions are being made to extend connectivity to community network members in smaller cities, outside of Havana?
  • SNET offers many services in addition to gaming -- social networking (similar to Facebook), FTP (file transfer) for content sharing, live music streaming, software for download, and forums for developers and engineers, poetry, literature, comics, and sports. Will all of the current SNET services and content be supported?
  • Was the ETECSA/YCC migration anticipated and planned for during the drafting of resolutions 98 and 99?
  • Were SNET and YCC representatives consulted or involved in the drafting of resolutions 98 and 99?
  • There has been some dissension among SNET administrators in the past -- was this agreement approved unanimously?
  • In Spain, the UK, Argentina, and other nations, the decision was made to cooperate with and support community networks -- to treat them as cooperatively-owned Internet service providers. Did MINCOM consider that alternative and, if so, why was it rejected?
  • Some SNET members have been detained and threatened for voicing opposition to the takeover of the network -- are those reports accurate?
  • What will ETECSA/YCC charge for access to former SNET services?
  • Did MINCOM do a cost/benefit analysis of the conversion?
  • Will former SNET members be compensated in any way for their investment in equipment or time in creating intellectual capital in the form of content, software or communication infrastructure?
SNET was a Cuban success story -- a user-owned and operated cooperative that developed infrastructure, applications, and content. SNET and the other Cuban community networks may have connected as many homes as ETECSA's home DSL service, Nauta Hogar. Cuba's community networks also developed human capital -- experienced users and technicians who, in the long run, benefit both ETECSA and society.

Skeptics see this takeover as confiscation of community assets rather than an effort to better serve the public. Transparent answers to these and related questions could ease their concerns and I hope ETECSA and the JCCs are able to quickly deliver on their promises.

Monday, August 19, 2019

SNet: inicio o final?

This post was written by a friend who asked me to post it anonymously. (I am just a platform, like Facebook or 8chan :-).

El pasado 10 de agosto decenas de integrantes de SNet se reunieron en las afueras del Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Cuba para solicitar una vía legal que impida la desaparición de la red.

A finales de mayo, dos resoluciones ministeriales, las resoluciones No 98 y la 99 del Ministerio de las Comunicaciones, establecían un nuevo marco regulatorio del espacio radioeléctrico cubano, legalizaban las redes privadas, aunque los límites impuestos suponían la desaparición de SNet, la gran infraestructura habanera de acuerdo a la tipología empleada por sus administradores desde hace más de 10 años.

Sin embargo, la solución de las autoridades de comunicaciones y los reguladores fue la fusión con la infraestructura de los Joven Club de Computación, una organización adscrita a la Organización de los Jóvenes Comunistas, la rama juvenil del Partido Comunista de Cuba.

Con tal medida se disuelve la hasta ahora precaria autonomía de la red comunitaria habanera.

Muchos de los administradores quedaron conformes con las nuevas condiciones. Otros no. Estos últimos convocaron a otro encuentro frente a las instalaciones del Ministerio de Comunicaciones el pasado sábado 17 de agosto, la cual no se efectuó debido al despliegue en la zona y detenciones por parte de las autoridades policiales, de acuerdo a los propios activistas y medios alternativos de noticias.

El arreglo consiste, de acuerdo al sitio oficial Cubadebate, en una alianza técnica que permitirá trasferir todas las prestaciones de la red hacia estos centros estatales, utilizando la infraestructura propia de los Jóvenes Clubes y las de ETECSA.

De acuerdo a esta nota oficial:
Los integrantes de las redes privadas de La Habana entregaron más de 250 productos, entre juegos y servicios, desarrollados por ellos mismos a los Joven Club. El director general de Comunicaciones del Mincom asevera que los programadores podrán ser contratados como colaboradores y reconoce el talento de los jóvenes de las redes privadas. Joven Club puede contratar a estos muchachos como colaboradores o como trabajadores. Hay espacio para que puedan seguir desarrollándose y que el servicio continúe creciendo, así nos beneficiamos todos. Este proyecto es inclusivo, los juegos que hasta ahora se disfrutaban en un barrio de La Habana, por ejemplo, estarán a disposición de gamers de todo el país. Esta buena nueva despeja la mayor preocupación de las comunidades: quedarse desconectadas. Según Plá Feria, el MINCOM y los Joven Club robustecen su infraestructura para llegar a la mayor cantidad de lugares posibles. “Incluso, ya se emplean los equipos de quienes integran las redes privadas, gracias a su disposición de colaborar y extender sus prácticas aprovechando las potencialidades de “la computadora de la familia cubana.
El propio diario del Partido Comunista de Cuba, Granma, publica una nota sobre el asunto.
En estos momentos se realizan las pruebas de conexión y trabajos de acondicionamiento de la infraestructura tecnológica para la expansión de la wifi en algunas instalaciones de La Habana: Palacio Central de Computación, Cerro v Parque Manila, Playa IX, así como en el municipio de 10 de Octubre y en la urbanización de Alamar.

Las pruebas que se realizan en estos momentos son libres de costo, aunque en etapas siguientes las tarifas que se implementen serán más asequibles para las familias que se conecten a esta red, señaló Díaz Meriño.
Los servicios traspasados incluyen foros, las redes sociales, los juegos en línea, y otros. Ya ha comenzado en algunos “pilares” habaneros, como el del Cerro. Hasta el momento libres de costo; pero se anuncia que en un futuro se cobraran.

Con esta fusión los Jóvenes Clubes utilizaran la infraestructura desplegada de forma cooperativa por los administradores y usuarios de la red; los que a su vez tendrán que acceder a un mayor costo cuando se cobren los servicios.

Usuarios en la página de Cubadebate anotan estas preocupaciones entre los que están a favor y posen sus suspicacias (se ha respetado la ortografía original).

Maximino dijo:
Considero que el SNet independientemente que es una red privada a logrado muchas cosas hasta este momento que el estado no ha logrado, con pocos medios y de forma prácticamente gratuita, con gran cúmulo de servicios y una plataforma casi en la totalidad de la habana, en igual sentido lleva años posibilitando la diversión de los pequeños y mayores de la casa, me pregunto podrá los joven club integrar los usuarios q pretendan acceder a estos servicios, los costos del estado serán igual q los q impone etecsa q. Son casi imposible pagar? Esta red estará disponible para el 2030?
Daylin dijo:
Buenos días Maximino, lo que pretende Joven Club es integrar y aumentar los servicios para el disfrute de la familia. Los precios les aseguramos que seran módicos, por debajo del menor precio de las redes privadas. No es objetivo de Joven Club enriquecerse con estas acciones si no que haya una red segura, amplia y bajo las resoluciones. El precio sera colegiado entre Joven Club y las personas de las redes. Espero que se despejen sus dudas. Estamos para que los usuarios esten claros en todo lo que esta pasando.
mimismo dijo:
Hola, si los precios que se van a cobrar van a ser por debajo de los minimos que se cobran en las redes privadas, ¿Cuánto me cobrarán a mi que me conecto de gratis y siempre lo he hecho de gratis acá en Santa Clara?
Las redes comunitarias suelen constituirse y adaptarse de forma cooperativa y colaborativa a partir de la necesidad de los usuarios; algo que muchos no ven que suceda en los Jóvenes Club de Computación. Y no es tema de precios, se conoce que el acceso a la internet en Cuba es uno de los más onerosos en el mundo, aproximadamente 1 USD la hora de conexión en una zona WiFi. El tema que más suspicacias conlleva es la perdida de la autonomía de la red tal y como se ha desarrollado hasta hoy al ser fusionada con una organización estatal y política, con su propia agenda y prioridades. Incluso entre los estatutos actuales de la SNet está que no se permite hablar o debatir de política, religión, sexo o pornografía. Uno de los valores de estas redes cubanas es que no se hace hincapié en la posible rentabilidad financiera o promover una agenda política o religiosa.

Otros ven el futuro más optimista.

Shadow Walker Administrador de SNET (Street NETwork) CUBA - Perfil Oficial dijo:
Para gran parte de la comunidad de SNET a nivel nacional esta es una gran noticia aunque aun existe muchas dudas con respecto a los servicios. Dentro de estas y las mas importantes creo que ya debatidas por Doom y Julito personas muy queridas dentro de nuestro pequeño espacio digital es la de la conexion de usuarios los cuales viven muy distantes de los Joven Club, seria bueno que junto a estos sumen a todas las entidades que pertenecen al MINCOM para llegar a mas puntos de acceso dentro de la red nacional, ejemplos de estos, Joven Club ya incluidos, Etecsa, Correos de Cuba, Copextel, Radio Cuba, Radio Aficionados y demas entidades que cuenten en este momento con fibra óptica, también dentro de estos proyectos incluir he instruir a los gobiernos provinciales y municipales en cuanto a indicaciones para potenciar este tipo de conexion.
Pero tal y como la conocemos la SNet, como los dinosaurios, está condenada a desaparecer.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Cuba claims new regulations expand Internet access to homes and businesses, but here's the downside

The new regulations establish constraints on private network transmission power and cabling that, if enforced, would put Cuba's cooperatively-owned community networks out of business.

New Cuban regulations regarding private WiFi networks went into effect yesterday, and the New York Times and others proclaimed that "Cuba expands Internet access to private homes and businesses." Yes, Cubans can legally import and install WiFi routers in their homes, small cafes, B&Bs, etc., but these regulations will make little difference in Internet access.

For a start, very few homes and small businesses in Cuba have links to the Internet. Furthermore, my guess is that most people in homes that are connected to the Internet have already installed registered or unregistered WiFi routers. (Resolution No. 65/2003 dated June 5, 2003, states the procedure for registering a private data network).

If that is the case, what do these new regulations change?

They establish constraints on private network transmission power and cabling that, if enforced, would put Cuba's cooperatively-owned community networks, the largest of which is SNET in Havana, out of business. Even if they are not enforced today, they will hang like the sword of Damocles over their heads.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the Ministry of Communication has postponed enforcement for 60 days while they negotiate with SNET.

SNET will remain up during 60 days of negotiation (source).

Why would the Cuban government want to eliminate community networks? Do they see them as economic competitors to the government Internet service provider, ETECSA? Is ETECSA embarrassed by the fact that community networks connect so many people at so little cost? Do they fear clandestine, anti-government communication? I really don't know.
If Cuba aspires to what the International Telecommunication Union refers to as fourth generation policy, which they characterize as "Integrated regulation – led by economic and social policy goals," they should regard the community networks as collaborators, not competitors. They should legitimitize SNET and the others, subsidize and work with them and provide them with Internet connectivity. SNET is the world's largest community network that is not connected to the Internet. Cuba should follow the lead set by Spain, where they have provided Internet connectivity to, the world's largest Internet-connected community network. Looking to the future, community networkers could play a valuable role in the installation of Cuba's 5G wireless infrastructure.

Cuba proudly proclaims (Trumpets) that they working toward the computerization of society. The outcome of these negotiations with SNET will shed light on the veracity of that claim.

Update 8/10/2019

The Cuban Ministry of Communications has refused to make an exception to their restrictions on wireless power and cabling and says SNET (and presumably other Cuban community networks) must shut down. Over one hundred people have gathered to protest the decision, allegedly without any call to do so.

This goes beyond the loss of a large community network -- it signifies Cuban government intransigence and belies the claim that they seek "computerization" of the society and a modern Internet.

I asked earlier, why they might want to eliminate rather than collaborate with community networks and suggested three possibilities:
  1. They see community networks as economic competitors to ETECSA, the state-monopoly ISP.
  2. They are embarrassed by the community networks' ability to connect so many people at so little cost.
  3. They fear anti-government communication.
Since they control the Internet and have seen the example of countries like China which use a ubiquitous Internet as a tool of control, I lean toward answers 1 and 2.

Update 8/11/2019

Ernesto De Armas <@RealErnesto95>, tweeted this positive update on the negotiations with MINCOM:
Hola a todos. Por esta vía transmito las buenas nuevas respecto a SNET, hoy en la tarde el grupo de trabajo SNET-MINCOM llegaron a favorables acuerdos mediante los cuales se determinó que Snet va a pasar todos sus servicios a través de los JCC, los JCC a su vez estarán conectados por fibra óptica entre ellos y los servidores que contienen nuestros servicios se montarán en ETECSA.

También se autorizó a que los nodos se conecten a los JCC utilizando equipos de alta potencia que son los necesarios para poder hacer esto, entre estos equipos se incluyen los equipos de Ubikiti, Nanostation, etc de alta potencia, no pondrán trabas para estas conexiones hacia los JCC. También hay otra buena noticia, los servicios de SNET pronto estarán disponibles ¡Para todo el país!

También advirtió el grupo de trabajo respetar estos acuerdos y no realizar nada que pueda atentar contra los mismos, nada de manifestarse públicamente (que a mí entender no hace ya ninguna falta, ya hemos logrado lo que queríamos) ni hacer declaraciones ofensivas contra MINCOM. En mi opinión hemos ganado está batalla por la subsistencia de #Snet, ahora debemos cooperar entre todos para hacer de este proyecto algo mejor, incluso, a lo que teníamos anteriormente. Estoy sumamente contento, alegre y agradecido de que nuestras instituciones estatales no hayan hecho oídos sordos a nuestra causa. Hoy comienza una nueva era en la Informatización de la sociedad cubana

TheCubanJedi <@darthdancuba> asked "Podrán abrir algo de sNet a internet??" and Ernesto replied "No. De momento nada de internet a través de Snet como siempre ha sido."

This is unofficial, but if it is accurate, SNET will be more widely available and faster, but not yet on the Internet.

Update 8/12/2019

Sad to say, the August 10th update was accurate. Ernesto De Armas <@RealErnesto95> has learned that MINCOM has ruled against SNET and the restrictions on transmission power and cabling will be upheld.

Needless to say, this is disappointing to the users of Cuban community networks and to the general population since it is an indication that ETECSA is determined to remain a monopoly.

A demonstration protesting the decision will be held next Saturday. Here is the announcement:

Here is Ernesto's English translation:

As we have the conviction that Revolution is to change everything that needs to be changed, on Saturday, August 17th, from 9am in the park located in front of the MINCOM, behind the bus station terminal, we make a call to all persons filiated to Snet from all the provinces of the country.

SNET, a community created more than 15 years ago, is being affected by the resolutions 98 and 99, we fight and demand to have an autonomous SNET that keeps the social project that we have had during all these years and that reaches so many homes and Cuban families.

To everyone who has the feeling for Snet, which has been created by everyone, this is the time to fight against resolutions 98 and 99 that are attacking the correct functioning of our community, created with everyone's sacrifice and with more than a decade of existence and acceptance by thousands of Cubans.

This is the time to make MINCOM understand that true democracy is conceived and defined by the people and that we must be heard because we are the youth of this country, the new generation and as the future that we are we demand to be considered.

We urge and summon every teenager, young, adult or old person, without any difference who feels identified with our cause, either has enjoyed or not with our network and our services to support us from every place and every spot because WE ALL MATTER, WE ARE ALL SNET. On this depends the end of the beginning of a new dream, a new path that we want to follow, so we can accomplish our acknowledgment before the authorities and a happy ending to keep ourselves being what we are. Snet...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Havana can have 5G before Miami

(Click here for a Spanish translation of this post).

Havana needs 5G more than Miami does.

Compared to Miami, Havana is an Internet desert, but Havana may have 5G wireless connectivity before Miami. 5G architecture, US politics and policy, and the 5G timetable favor Havana. Let's start with 5G architecture.


Small cells (source)
5G will require many "small cells" because it uses high-frequency radio signals that don't travel as far as 4G signals and are more easily blocked by obstructions like trees and buildings. For example, there are about 154,000 cell towers in the US today and the CTIA, an industry association, estimates that there will be 800,000 small cells by 2026.

In Miami, small cell radios will be installed by professional employees of and contractors to the large mobile phone companies. Havana has only one telecommunication company, ETECSA, but it is home to SNET, the world's largest community network that is not connected to the Internet. Today, SNET is illegal but tolerated, and if ETECSA were willing to legitimize and collaborate with SNET, SNET members could play a role in siting and installing small cells. SNET's legal status is currently being reconsidered and by the time Havana is ready to deploy 5G, SNET could play a major cost and time-saving role. (Note that Cuba's new constitution de-centralizes executive governance by reducing provincial government and strengthening municipal government, possibly increasing the likelihood of local control of Internet infrastructure).

Havana's population is about 4.5 times that of Miami, but the population density is about one-tenth of Miami's. Low population density lends itself to citizen installation -- antennas will be relatively easy to site and install. Furthermore, obtaining permission to install them in Havana will be easier than Miami. Wire-line Internet service providers have already installed broadband infrastructure throughout Miami and, since 5G will offer a fixed-broadband alternative, the incumbents will resist it politically. On the other hand, 5G will fill a near-vacuum in Havana -- Havana needs 5G more than Miami does.


Average 4G download speed, Mbps (source)
Wireless standards are complex and evolve over time. The Third Generation Partnership Project was established in 1998 to define 3G mobile standards and is now defining 5G standards. Thousands of people from equipment manufacturers, telecommunication companies, national and international standards organizations, and professional societies are involved in the process and the technology and standards evolve over time. (For example, between February of 2016 and January 2019, average 4G download speed doubled in the US).

While we will see an ad proclaiming that Miami "has 5G" this year or next, the capability and applications will be marginally improved over 4G and only available in limited parts of the city. Perhaps five years from now 5G standards and equipment that can support novel applications will become available.

In the interim, neither city will see much 5G impact, but it will give Havana time to continue with their current program of stopgap measures like 3G mobile access. If the price of 3G is significantly reduced, Cuba will develop trained, demanding Internet users and app developers who are ready to embrace 5G once it is available.

Stopgap measures like 3G, public WiFi, and home DSL will not close the fiber gap between Miami and Havana, but in five years improved terrestrial wireless and low and medium-earth orbit (LEO and MEO) satellite connectivity will be available for 5G backhaul. Cuba is already a customer of MEO Internet-service provider O3b and in five years O3b will have significantly improved capacity and performance. Additionally, LEO providers SpaceX, OneWeb and China's Hongyun Project all plan to be offering service over Cuba in five years. SpaceX is based in the US and OneWeb in Great Britain, so Hongyun may have the inside track here, although they will have less capacity than their competitors.

Politics and policy

Trump's trade war with China favors Havana over Miami. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel points out: "levying new tariffs on everything from semiconductors to modems to routers is not going to make it any easier to deploy 5G wireless service. In fact, it will make it much more expensive."

His ban against Huawei further advantages Havana since Huawei is the world's leading producer of telecommunication equipment for service providers with a comfortable lead over their 5G competitors Nokia and Ericsson. They are also the number 2, in unit sales, and number 3, in revenue, smartphone manufacturer. If the ban persists, Miami will not have access to Huawei equipment.

By contrast, Huawei has supplied nearly all of Cuba's Internet infrastructure from its backbone to WiFi hotspots and home DSL and they are almost certain to be Cuba's 5G vendor. It is likely that China will contribute financially if they see Cuba as a strategic ally in their effort to extend the Digital Silk Road to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The US government was instrumental in funding the development of the Internet and could adopt positive 5G policies like investing in R&D or providing incentives to participate in the global 5G standards process, but Trump eschews global cooperation and Chinese companies are playing a leading role in the definition of 5G standards, which will solidify Huawei's leadership. Chinese telephone companies with 1.58 billion mobile phone subscriptions, will also influence standards as large 5G equipment customers.

Rather than seeing 5G as a cooperative global effort, Trump sees it as a competitive race and his 5G policy focuses on spectrum allocation (which is going poorly) and a call for State and local governments to improve "access to land, infrastructure, and property that will support new wireless networks, including rural America." [sic] That call sounds like it was drafted by a lobbyist for the incumbent mobile telcos or perhaps an ex-Associate General Counsel at Verizon like FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and it will meet resistance. (China has no such conflict).

I used the word "can" instead of "will" in the title of this post because the outcome depends upon the will of the Cuban government and ETECSA.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Cuba's new WiFi regulations -- a step forward, backward or sideways?

Cuba has legalized WiFi access to public Internet hotspots from nearby homes and small businesses, but SNET and other community networks remain illegal under the new regulations. Does this signify a significant policy change?

Soon after Cuba's state monopoly telecommunication company ETECSA began rolling out WiFi hotspots for Internet access, people began linking to them from homes and community street nets. These connections and importing the WiFi equipment they used were illegal, but generally tolerated as long as they remained apolitical and avoided pornography. Regulations passed last month legalized some of this activity in a bid to boost connectivity by allowing Internet access from homes and small private businesses like restaurants and vacation rentals that are located close enough to a hotspot to establish a WiFi connection.

The added convenience may generate more revenue for ETECSA and it will give the Ministry of Communication (MINCOM) some small fees and, more important, registration data on the local-area network operators. (If you license a connection, you have the power to rescind the license). It will also generate some additional network traffic, which may strain network capacity. There are two WiFi frequency bands -- 2.4 and 5 Ghz -- and a friend told me that currently only the 2.4 Ghz band is being used. The new regulations allow use of the 5 Ghz band as well, which will add capacity from homes and businesses to the hotspots, but backhaul capacity from the hotspots to the Internet may become more of a bottleneck and exacerbate quality of service problems.

So much for small networks, but what, if anything, will be the impact of these regulations and their enforcement be on larger, community networks, the largest of which is Havana's SNET? The new regulations bar cables that cross streets and radio transmitter power over 100 mW. SNET uses cables and higher-powered transmitters, so, if these regulations were enforced, they would put SNET and smaller community networks out of business.

However, community networks have been illegal and tolerated since their inception, so it may be that they will continue to be ignored. If that is the case, the new regulations don't really change the status quo, but what if these new regulations foreshadow a policy change? What if ETECSA were willing to collaborate with community networks following the example of in Spain?

SNET topology. Red dots are pillars;
others are second-level nodes (source).
If that were the case, ETECSA could take steps like providing high-speed wireless or fiber Internet connections at the locations of the central SNET backbone "pillars" and allowing cables and faster wireless links to and within second-level networks that serve up to 200 users. They could also cooperate with SNET administrators in purchasing supplies and equipment and network management and they could do the same for smaller community networks outside of Havana.

So, which is it -- a step backward with cracking down on SNET and other community networks, a slightly positive step adding locations from which one can access a WiFi hotspot, or a positive indication of a policy change and a step toward incorporating community networks into the recognized and supported Cuban Internet infrastructure?

We will know the answer after the new rules go into effect on July 29, but my guess is that it will be the middle choice, a slightly positive step. Cracking down on SNET would be disruptive -- eliminating jobs and depriving thousands of users of services they value and I don't think the government would want those problems. At the other extreme, full cooperation with community networks would mean ETECSA giving up control and the dilution of their bureaucratic and financial monopoly, which seems unlikely.

But, to end on a more upbeat note -- a friend tells me that he has heard that SNET community representatives are talking with the government. Could ETECSA and MINCOM have different views and, if so, who is in charge?

Update 6/15/2019

Two things. First, the friend I mentioned above commented on my speculation that MINCOM and ETECSA might have different views, saying "ETECSA and MINCOM are so tight together that is hard to say where one starts and the other one begins."

He also pointed out that the administrators of four of the SNET sub-nets posted a statement telling users to remain respectful and calm while they negotiate with MINCOM to protect the interest of SNET and other community networks. They have had one meeting in which they talked about spectrum and the statement refers to the "regulatory framework," suggesting that MINCOM is open to high-speed wireless links. They say the first meeting was productive and they will have future meetings.

This increases my confidence that SNET will survive under these new regulations and, if MINCOM allows high-speed links between the sub-nets, SNET performance will improve. It would be even better if the talks go beyond SNET's survival and move on to ways they can collaborate with ETECSA.

You can follow the negotiation progress on the SNET Facebook page.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Does China's Digital Silk Road to Latin America and the Caribbean run through Cuba?

China will not ignore Latin America and the Caribbean forever and Cuba is a logical place to start.

DSR IT infrastructure projects as of 12/2018 (source).
China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious, long-term, global investment and development program. It was launched in 2013 with a focus on infrastructure -- roads, railroads, pipelines, undersea cables and ports. Since then China has invested $80 billion and signed 173 BRI agreements with 125 countries and 29 international organizations.

Building a Digital Silk Road (DSR) is a BRI subgoal. The DSR was added in 2015 under the name "Information Silk Road" with the goals of improving international communications connectivity and fostering the internationalization of China’s rapidly growing tech companies. The DSR plan addresses technologies like security, machine learning, 5G wireless, chip design and manufacturing and applications in areas like e-commerce, e-government, and smart cities. It also encompasses infrastructure in space -- the BeiDou satellite navigation system, the Hongyun low-earth orbit broadband Internet project and the Digital Belt and Road Earth observation program.

Huawei's Caribbean cables (source).
China Unicom and Camcom installed an undersea cable between Cameroon and Brazil with Huawei doing the engineering and installation. Previously, Huawei had installed the underwater cables shown here, but the DSR project has focused primarily on Eurasia and Africa. However, China will not ignore Latin America and the Caribbean forever and Cuba is a logical place to start.

Cuban delegates attended the thematic-forum on the DSR at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in April and Cuba's digital ties to China date back many years:(Breitbart reported that Cuba has agreed to bring the BRI to the west, but I am not sure if that is evidence that they will or they won't :-)

Cuba's first connection to the Internet was subsidized by the US National Science Foundation and used Cisco equipment, but it's been downhill ever since. President Obama made a sustained effort to establish a connection with Cuba, but little has come of that and Trump's policies on trade, immigration and Cuba have moved us further from many Latin American and Caribbean nations, creating an opening for China and the DSR.

Update 2/3/2020

Huawei built an undersea cable connecting four landing points in southern Chile and Chile is studying the feasibility of a trans-pacific undersea cable connecting Valparaiso with China or Japan. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera met with Huawei executives on a visit to China in April and invited them to bid on the project.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Google and ETECSA will agree to exchange Internet traffic without charge

This agreement telegraphs a change in Cuban policy -- now we need the cable.

Google and ETECSA have signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to negotiate a peering agreement that would allow cost-free data exchange between their networks once an undersea cable physically connects them.

Google has worked hard to establish a relationship with ETECSA and the Cuban government. In recent years, Cuba, not the US, has limited the Cuban Internet. This agreement telegraphs a change in Cuban policy.

Today, nearly all of Cuba's Internet traffic is carried over an undersea cable at the south end of the island. A cable from the Havana area to Florida would reduce the load on their inter-city "backbone" network that today carries Internet traffic to the cable landing in the south. That would result in a faster Internet and save ETECSA money. The next generation of low-earth and medium-earth orbit satellite connectivity can have a similar effect.

ETECSA could use the savings from an undersea cable or next-generation satellites to cut prices, increase investment in infrastructure or increase profit. That would depend upon who is actually calling the shots at ETECSA.

Over three years ago, Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, said he knew of at least a half dozen proposals — from US and non-US companies — to construct a north-south undersea cable between the US and Cuba.

The cable has been stopped by politics, not economics or technical difficulty. It looks like Cuba is willing to relent on the politics. Trump's fighting this cable would solidify Cuba's political and commercial ties with China and Russia.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

4G mobile trials have begun in Cuba -- what is their 3/4/5G strategy?

Early 4G speed test Source
During the first month of 3G mobile service, Cuban Internet use increased substantially. At the end of January, ETECSA had 5.4 million mobile users, 35% of which use the Internet and they are adding 5,000 new data customers per day. According to Eliecer Samada, head of ETECSA's wireless access group, the company is now at 160% of the expected capacity.

As a result of that unexpected demand and damage due to the tornado that hit Havana in January, both data and phone service have been slow and unreliable.

To alleviate these problems, ETECSA announced last week that they were accelerating 4G mobile trials along the north coast from Mariel through Havana to Varadero. That is a distance of about 100 miles with 44 4G base stations. The trial will be open to about 10,000 high-volume users who have 4G-compatible phones and have been using at least 2.5 GB of 3G mobile data per month in that area. (ETECSA reports that 7% of 3G network users account for 52% of the traffic).

Andy García ran a speed test using his neighbor's account and recorded a download speed of 5.52 Mbps, upload speed of 1.18 Mbps and a 24.17 ms latency, but a few days later, he observed slower rates and Armando Camacho recently recently reported a speed of 3.2 Mbps download and 5.8 Mbps upload and he has posted the locations of 21 base stations in Havana. We can't draw conclusions about the post-trial speeds from a few tests, but they will surely be faster than current 3G speeds and considerably slower than the US LTE speeds reported last month by Tom's Guide.

Current US 4G speeds (source)
ETECSA expects this trial to divert enough traffic to improve 3G and voice service. If that is the case, it seems the current congestion is at the base stations rather than in backhaul from them. Regardless, I expect that backhaul capacity from faster 4G base stations will constrain 4G rollout in this and other regions.

I don't know what ETECSA's mobile deployment strategy is -- what the balance will be between 3 and 4G capacity and pricing -- but I have suggested that they will gain trained, demanding users if they focus on bringing the cost down as quickly as possible. That would argue for cheap or even free 3G service.

The average price of 1 GB of mobile data in Cuba is higher than that in 184 of 230 nations. (The price in ten of the 28 Caribbean nations is higher than in Cuba and India is the lowest-price nation). The source does not indicate the speeds of these services and it would be interesting to see them normalized for per-capita income as an indication of affordability, but there seems to be room for price-cutting in Cuba.

Regardless of the deployment and pricing of 3 and 4G mobile Internet access in Cuba, both should be regarded as stopgap measures and plans should be made for 5G deployment.

Update 3/21/2019

ETECSA initially restricted 4G access to those with 2.5 GB per month data plans. 14Ymedio reports that they have now opened 4G up to those with 1.5 GB per month plans in spite of having temporarily run out of the USIM cards that are required for 4G access. (USIM cards obsoleted SIM cards, which were used in 2G phones and could be used, with the loss of some features, in 3G phones).

The article also states that they are adding 50,000 new mobile accounts per month, as opposed to the 5,000 per day reported above. They say that 40% of those users generate some sort of data traffic -- for Nauta email, MMS messages or Web browsing.

Update 10/10/2019

Cubans with appropriate 1800 Mhz phones and prepaid accounts can now access 4G/LTE service in parts of Havana, Matanzas, Mayabeque, Artemisa, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Holguín, Granma, Las Tunas, Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba and coverage will be extended in the future. ETECSA reiterated that this would lower demand for, and presumably improve the quality of 3G, service.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The first month of Cuban 3G mobile Internet service

Oracle DNS server query rate.
(Plot by Matt Prosser).
ETECSA, Cuba's government monopoly ISP, is offering a number of stopgap Internet services -- navigation rooms, home DSL and public WiFi hotspots, but the recently rolled out 3G mobile service is the most important. The plot to the right shows the normalized rate of Cuban domain name requests to Oracle servers during the first full month of operation -- a surrogate estimate of Internet traffic volume. During the limited 3G rollout period of December 4-6, DNS hits were roughly double the previous level. When the full rollout was complete, Oracle DNS queries doubled again -- roughly 4 times that of the pre-rollout level.

ETECSA released 3G mobile sales data for the first month at the recent National Workshop on Computerization and Territorial Cybersecurity and the results were impressive -- there were nearly 2 million transactions and the revenue was over 13 million CUC.

I have argued that as soon as they have the capacity to handle the traffic, ETECSA should cut 3G mobile prices and eventually make this slow, obsolete service free. Doing so would expand and train their user base and lead to the development of new applications. For example, a month after the service was introduced, Sube, a taxi application similar to Uber, but with cash payment directly to the driver, is available.

While free 3G would cut into ETECSA revenue in the short run, Cuban Internet policy should be determined by social and economic goals, not ETECSA profit.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cuba censors SMS messages ... for now

What could the Cuban government do with Russia-style access to Facebook data? What sorts of fake news could they create and circulate on YouTube and Pinterest? What can be done to control the dark side of the Cuban Internet?

Cuba is about to hold a referendum on a proposed constitution that the government supports and Eduardo Sanchez posted a test showing that SMS messages with anti-referendum terms like #YoVotoNo, #YoNoVoto or abstención are being blocked.

This form of censorship is not new. In 2016, 14Ymedio posted a story documenting the blocking of SMS messages containing terms like "human rights" or the names of certain dissidents.

While this blocking appears to occur only on SMS messages, as opposed to Internet texting, one can imagine similar screening of Internet traffic. The 3G mobile connectivity that Cuba began deploying last month appears to have significantly increased Internet activity, making this rudimentary censorship more significant.

But screening texts for key words could be just a start. As shown here, Cubans are already users of Facebook, YouTube and other social media services.

Cuban social media market shares, January 2018-19 (source)

I have long advocated improved Internet access in Cuba -- most recently suggesting several reasons for making 3G mobile access free as soon as capacity would allow, but what might the Cuban government do with Russia-style access to Facebook data? What sorts of fake news could they create and circulate on YouTube or Pinterest?

In the early days of the Internet, we naivly saw it a force for Good, but China, which came online in 1993, showed us (& Cuba) the dark side. Like China in the 1990s, Cuba is a near "green field." What can be done to control the dark side of the Cuban Internet?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Cuban 3G speeds in context

I have seen mobile speed tests in Havana ranging from .5 to 1 Mbps and want to put that in context.

In the 1990s, the ITU specified a minimum speed of 2Mbit/s for stationary or walking users and 348 kbit/s in a moving vehicle. Commercial service began rolling out in the early 2000s.

I have seen anecdotal reports putting 3G speed in Havana as being between .5 and 1 Mbps.

I had a hard time finding any actual 3G performance data since service providers have nearly all converted to 4G LTE, but I found two sources.

One, from 2014, reported 3G speeds ranging from 384Kbps to 2Mbps, but they gave no explanation of how they gathered their data.

The other is recent and better documented. Professor Peter Heinzmann the University of Applied Sciences, Rapperswil Switzerland sent a report on 3G speeds in Switzerland for the year between December 16 2017 and December 16 2018. They took 16,942 download measurements from 1,762 devices and 16,766 upload measurements from 1,757 devices. The median download speed was 4 Mbps and the mean was 6 Mbps. The median and mean upload speeds were 1 Mbps.

Here are the cumulative upload (green) and download (blue) speed distributions:

These speeds are well above those reported so far in Cuba. Since the Cuban towers were installed recently and some in Switzerland might be quite old, I suspect that the difference is due to congestion at the towers or in backhaul. Only ETECSA really knows what is going on.

#Internet #Cuba #mobile #ICT4D

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The case for making 3G mobile Internet access free in Cuba

The economic and social benefits of free 3G Internet connectivity would easily outweigh the cost.

Last week ETECSA began offering 3G mobile access to Cuba's national intranet and the global Internet and President Diaz-Canal tweeted the news:

His tweet has received 216 comments so far and reading through them, many are effusively positive, like:

"This is without a doubt a breakthrough that will benefit millions of Cuban families!! Congratulations!!" and "Excellent news comrade!"

Others were critical, noting that the prices are high relative to Cuban incomes (one said "absurd") and the technology is obsolete -- "Congratulations, but they're 20 years late."

I cannot agree with the de rigueur/obligatory congratulations -- third generation mobile is over 15 years old, only 66% of the population is covered, the price is very high relative to Cuban salaries (access to the national intranet is cheaper than global Internet access) and performance is unknown -- but this is a faltering first step and, like WiFi hotspots, street nets, El Paquete Semanal, navigation rooms and home DSL, it should be seen as an interim, stopgap measure. Hopefully, the Cuban Internet will eventually leapfrog over current technology to next-generation technology -- in the meantime stopgaps are better than nothing.

The next stopgap goal should be to make ubiquitous 3G mobile Internet access free -- like free streets, sidewalks, education, etc. Doing so would create a nation of trained, demanding users leading to the development of innovative, practical applications.

ETECSA, Cuba's government monopoly ISP and phone company, may complain that they do not have the infrastructure to support the traffic that free 3G would generate and can not afford to build the capacity. I have no information on the specifications of the 3G base stations they are installing, but it is probably safe to assume that there is spare capacity since 3G data rates are far below those of today's LTE technology. (A friend just told me that he was seeing 1 Mbps in Havana).

The traffic from free 3G would also require backhaul capacity from the base stations and that can be provided by satellite as well as terrestrial fiber and wireless infrastructure. Cuba currently uses SES's O3b (other three billion) medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellites for international connectivity and they could also use the O3b network for mobile backhaul. (Note that O3b capacity will increase dramatically in 2021).

O3b is operating MEO satellites today, and they will be joined in the early 2020s by low-Earth orbit satellite constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, which are also potential mobile backhaul providers.

Both ETECSA and the Cuban society can justify the investment needed to provide free 3G Internet access. Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, coined "Metcalfe's Law" saying that the effect of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users. While not a precise mathematical statement, there can be no doubt that the effect of a network on society and its value to whoever owns it increases rapidly as it grows.

As noted, 3G technology is obsolete and one day Cuba will be rolling out modern technology. When they do, people who have been using 3G will understand its value and the value of the applications they have been using and many will be willing to migrate to and pay for faster service.

In addition to trained users, free 3G would generate application developers and Internet entrepreneurs. They would develop 3G applications and content for Cuba and other Spanish speakers around the world and would transition to modern infrastructure when it becomes available.

I've been talking about free 3G from the standpoint of ETECSA and application developers and Internet entrepreneurs, but consider the social benefit of reducing the digital divide and improving government, education, health care, entertainment, tourism, finance, and other businesses, etc.

This has been a back-of-the-envelope case, but it seems clear that the economic and social benefits of free 3G Internet connectivity would easily outweigh the cost. Let's flesh the proposal out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Cuba rolls out 3G mobile access

What if it were free?

After several months of trials, ETECSA announced the availablity of third-generation mobile access to their national intranet and the global Internet in a televised "round table."

As shown below, they have upgraded 789 mobile base stations to 3G reaching 66% of the population:

Pricing can be by the megabyte (1 CUC≈$1):

or in monthly packages:

The prices are quite steep for a typical Cuban and I suspect there would be relatively few subscribers among the 34% of the population that is not yet covered. Furthermore, many users will have to buy new phones to use the service. (There are still 1,084 second-generation mobile base stations in Cuba).

Network performance during the trials mentioned above was poor -- connections were unreliable and slow. Part of that may have been due to the fact that access was free, but it remains to be seen how fast and reliable the mobile access will be. That will be determined by demand and infrastructure -- the capacity of the base stations and backhaul.

Access to the national intranet costs less than access to the global Internet. While local access saves some congestion on Cuba's international links, it also encourages a Cuban "walled-garden." Cuba is developing local content and services, but they cannot compete with what is available globally. Cuba should open to the world and also aim to be a provider of Spanish-language content and services.

There is also a political dimension. Cuba's president, Miguel Díaz-Canel hinted at a walled-garden strategy when he addressed the Parliament saying "We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online," adding that Cubans could thus "counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content." I can't argue about banal and vulgar content (and worse), but the cure of a walled-garden in a nation with a government-monopoly Internet service provider is worse than the disease.

(Access to the national intranet portal has been blocked in the US -- I'd be curious to hear from others who can access it).

If performance is good enough, mobile access will be more convenient and comfortable than the current WiFi hotspots or navigation rooms so it will become the way most Cubans go online. That would be an improvement, but far from ideal. As I have said many times, 3G mobile, WiFi hotspots, home DSL, public navigation rooms, street nets, and El Paquete Semanal are stopgap measures and Cuba should be planning to leapfrog current technology in the future.

We should not forget that 3G mobile technology is around 15-years old. Another interim step could be to augment Cuba's current O3b satellite and terrestrial connectivity to significantly increase backhaul capacity and offer free 3G mobile access. Doing so would lead to a population of trained, demanding users and enable many innovative, practical applications. That may sound crazy at first, but we take free sidewalks, roads, firefighting, etc. for granted and a few cities offer free public transport -- why not ubiquitous, free 3G connectivity?

Coming back to Earth — ETECSA promised to make 3G mobile access widely available by the end of the year and they did it. You can watch the video of the televised announcement here:

Update 1/10/2019

Oracle reported a significant increase in Cuban DNS queries immediately following the 3G rollout and, in spite of high prices, the increase persisted through mid-December. It would be interesting to know what portion of Cuban's new 3G access is paid for by ex-pat families and friends as opposed to Cuban nationals.

Update 1/12/2019

The DNS query rate reported by Oracle continued through the end of the year. It dropped off on December 13th and again on Christmas day, but remained much higher than during the limited activation period which was double the pre-rollout rate. (What happened on Thursday, December 13th)?

Oracle reports DNS queries and other statistics here and you can view a plot for the previous week for a nation. (Click here for Cuba last week).

DNS queries last week in Cuba are shown here:

There was a dip last Thursday as well -- coincidence?

Update 1/17/2019

There may be some confusion about 3G accounts -- ETECSA posted a tweet stressing the fact that charges are per amount of data rather than time online as at the WiFi hotspots and their Web site warns users that they need phones with 900 Mhz radios. I bet ETECSA is selling a lot of new phones, many of which are purchased with remittances from abroad.

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