Saturday, December 27, 2014

Can there be a uniquely Cuban Internet?

I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system.
Cuban blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez

The first instance of citizen journalism on the Internet was during the Soviet Coup attempt of 1991, where it was used to coordinate dissent and share news during protests. We tend to think of citizen journalism as anti-regime -- the Twitter Revolution, the Arab Spring.

But there are important counter examples, like that provided by blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez, who was recently profiled in a New York Times article on Cuban bloggers. Pérez is not a revolutionary seeking to overthrow the Cuban government -- he works for the Ministry of Communication and has government-provided access to the Internet at work and at home.

He criticizes the government in his blog La Chiringa de Cuba, but does not advocate revolution -- he "criticizes to perfect the system."

Carlos Alberto Pérez -- taken from a New York Times article and video on Cuban bloggers

I hope his point of view prevails -- rejecting both the far left and far right and finding Cuban solutions to Cuban problems.

How does this general principle apply to the Internet? Today, the Internet is under the control of an opaque monopoly, ETECSA. Neither I nor Cubans paying $4.50 per hour for slow DSL access or using their 2G cell phones like the current situation.

But, I would not like to see Cuba go to the other extreme -- ceding control over the Internet to a foreign investor in return for infrastructure. I have seen that approach in the US, and it is far from optimal and in developing nations like Cuba, it has produced poor results.

Hopefully, Cuba will find a uniquely Cuban way to a modern Internet. The goal should be eventually providing universal, affordable (free in some cases) access to the people of Cuba -- not profiting ETECSA, the Cuban government or foreign investors.

I would not bet on that rosy outcome, but, if it is to be achieved, it will take many years -- involving both short and long-term programs).

I do not know Carlos Alberto Pérez or what his job is in the Ministry of Communication, but I hope the Minister is more inclined to read his blog than to cut it off.

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Update 2/4/20114

A post in the Havana Times asking "Where are the US-Cuba talks headed" is accompanied by the illustration shown below. This gets at the reservation I have over the possibility (probability?) that the Cuban Internet will be turned over to foreign investors from the US or elsewhere. (It's not just the US, the French telecommunication company Orange has already made a deal with Cuba).





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