Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cuban government support of the weekly "packages"

Cuban blogger Isbel Diaz Torres has written a two part post on the information "packages" that are distributed each week in Cuba.

In part one, he lists 12 factors that lead him to believe that the Cuban government may be behind these weekly packages. I will not list the 12 factors here -- you can see them in his post -- but he makes a compelling case that the package service could not run as smoothly as it does without government participation or approval.

In part 2 he discusses the motive the government might have for supporting the service. Since the weekly packages include current television program episodes, movies, magazines, etc., they supply weekly entertainment, eliminating what may be the key factor behind people's desire for Internet access. He also lists other, very limited, services that the government argues substitute for Internet services. He speculates that the government wants to be able to claim that Internet access is not needed because Cubans have everything they want without it.

One cannot know whether Torres' hypothesis is true. The weekly packages are surrounded in mystery. I have asked many people who distributes them and how they get the material into Cuba and no one seems to know.

If the government is behind the weekly packages, I would suggest a simpler motive than trying to rationalize a lack of Internet access -- money. The packages are a going business with an established curating and distribution organization. Someone is making money and it might be the government or a friend of the government.

The Cuban government says information technology is now a priority, but they are limited in what it can afford.

They could surely afford to institutionalize and upgrade the weekly "sneaker net" if they were sincere. The people curating and distributing the material could be recognized as small businesses and new types of material -- like news and education -- could be included.

The big stumbling block would be copyright. The government might not want to acknowledge copyright violation. If they chose to worry about copyright, they could negotiate block licenses with the owners of the material. Since they not getting any royalties for Cuban distribution today, low royalties, perhaps with a promise of increases over time, could be negotiated.

I've made a couple of other low cost proposals the Cuban government could implement in the short run -- a satellite pilot trial leading, if successful, to a broader roll out.

If they are sincere in the desire to prioritize information technology, they could also get behind and extend the weekly packages.

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