Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Cuban Internet in context

The Cuban Internet is minimal and unfree -- far worse than one would expect in a nation with a relatively high UNDP Human development index.

In the last week or so I've seen a spate of articles (for example this one) pointing out that only a few, relatively rich Cubans can access the Internet and that the Cuban Internet is not free. This is not exactly news. (It may be news that Cuba was an early networking leader).

These articles were triggered by the publication of the 2014 editions of the Freedom House Freedom on the Net report and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Measuring information society report. I will highlight a few of the reported findings on Cuba and put them in context by looking at some Cuban data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human development report.

Freedom on the Net, 2014

Net freedom and sub-component ranks out of 65 nations
Freedom House ranked Cuba 62nd among the 65 nations they surveyed. As shown here, the overall freedom index is composed of three sub-indices: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. These scores put Cuba in the group of nations that includes China, Syria and Iran -- not exactly august company.

Freedom House puts Cuba in the context of all nations with the following plot:

Internet freedom versus penetration -- purple indicates not free, green free

(Too bad we cannot combine Iceland's Internet with Cuba's climate).

The report includes a well documented essay on the state of Cuban Internet freedom and you can see summaries of Cuba's rating in the 2012 and 2013 Freedom on the Net reports here.

Measuring information society, 2014

This report is a compilation of data and analysis of the state of information and communication technology (ICT) in 166 countries. The key summary statistic is the ICT development index (IDI), which is based upon three sub-indices as shown here:

The ITU framework and index structure

IDI and sub-index ranks out of 166 nations
The ITU model says infrastructure access plus capability and skills lead to ICT use which impacts individuals, organizations and society in a nation.

Cuba ranks 125th on the IDI -- they are doing well on skills, but access pulls them down. The IDI and sub-indices are a function of many variables and they include telephone, mobile and Internet indicators -- so, for example, Cuban access is pulled up by low-cost fixed telephones and pulled down by fixed broadband prices.

Latin American fixed broadband price

Composite indicators like these offer a very rough characterization of the Internet in a nation and there is much more Internet-related data on Cuba in the report. For example, broadband is limited to 2 mbps DSL and even that is not available in private homes; the Cuban household connectivity rate is only 3.4%; Cuban IDI is 32nd out of 32 ranked nations in Latin America and the Caribbean (Haitii was not included in the IDI rankings for some reason); in spite of the ALBA cable,Cuba has the lowest international bandwidth per user in the Americas; Cuba is one of four nations in the Americas without wireless broadband and ETECSA is one of the last state telecommunication-sector monopolies in the world.

Human development report, 2014

Like the others, the UNDP human development report compiles an overall index, the human development index (HDI). The HDI is computed for 187 countries and territories and is a composite of sub-indices for health, education and income (up to a cutoff point).

Cuban fares better on the HDI than the other indices -- it is ranked 44th in the world and second only to Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean:

Cuba is ranked 44th in the world on the HDI.

The Cuban HDI is second to Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As we see below, Cuba has made steady progress with the exception of the "special period" after the fall of the Soviet Union and more recently, in education. (What's up with education)?

Cuban HDI and constituent indices over time

The report includes profiles of the state of human progress in each nation -- you can see Cuba's here.

Cuba's HDI rank is laudable and it was achieved essentially without the Internet -- think of what they could have achieved with a robust Internet (even if it were controlled as in China). That is a sad opportunity loss. The Cuban government denies fear of the Internet, but they have restricted it since its inception.

The tip of the iceberg

The above is only a quick look at these three reports -- each is extensive, well researched and contains significant analysis. They also publish their data and provide interactive analysis tools so you can play with the data yourself. For example, the UNDP makes their data available in Google's Public Data Explorer (PDE), which makes dynamic plots of time series.

I used the PDE to plot the relationship between the number of users and the HDI in 2008, the year Cuban education began to drop off:

The graph changes dynamically as the year slider at the bottom is moved. Check it out for yourself, here -- you will like the dynamic presentation.

(This sort of analysis was introduced by Hans Rosling -- check out these great presentations if you are not familiar with his work).

The UNDP data is also available as a Stat Planet world map, which I used to create the two HDI charts shown above.

If, like me, you like the global perspective, you will want to look at these three reports and the accompanying data.

Update 8/22/2016

Cuba's HDI has slipped relative to the rest of the world since I first wrote this post. The 2015 Human Development Report shows that Cuba has fallen to ninth in Latin America and the Caribbean and I suspect that it may drop further with the difficulty experienced by trading partner Venezuela. That being said, the Cuban Internet is still an outlier -- far too poorly developed given their economy and levels of health and education.
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