Saturday, October 25, 2014

A modest connectivity pilot proposal

Would the Cuban government be willing to test a few low-speed satellite links that were not controlled by ETECSA?

I had an interesting exchange with a reader this week. He took exception to my assertion that the sorry state of the Internet in Cuba today has its roots in three factors -- the US embargo, Cuba's depressed economy during the "special period" after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Cuban government's fear of free information.

He agreed with the first two points, but asserted that the third was speculation on my part. I replied that during the early days of the Internet, government officials, including Raúl Castro, argued that freeing of information had contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I also asked him why, if they did not fear free information, wouldn't today's government allow private citizens to establish satellite connections?

In an earlier post, I said that, even if the government were willing, Cuba could not afford to cover the island with modern Internet infrastructure or attract foreign investment to do so. (Even if they could attract the foreign investment, I would hate to see Cuba's Internet future in the hands of companies like AT&T and Comcast).

In that post, I suggested that decentralized satellites could serve as an affordable first (interim) step on the way to a modern Internet. If the government is not afraid of free information, would they allow a small pilot study to see if satellites work, how people use them and what the costs and benefits are?

For example, would they give permission to install a few satellite dishes -- perhaps on a residential street or in a school, clinic or Joven Club in a rural area?

The cost would be small -- I would be willing to cover a year of satellite service out of my own pocket (or better through Kickstarter funding). It would be an interesting project and help settle the question raised by my reader.

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