Thursday, March 12, 2015

A drop in the Internet bucket -- big news or not?

Adonis Ortiz chats with his father, who lives in the U.S., using a free Wi-Fi network at a center run by famed artist Kcho, in Havana, (Desmond Boylan/Associated Press)

The Cuban artist Kcho received permission from the Cuban telecommunication monopoly ETECSA to provide free WiFi access to his Internet connection.

Cuba has many open WiFi hotspots, but this is different in two ways: it is authorized by the Cuban government and it provides access to the Internet, not the Cuban "intranet."

Users of the hotspot share a single 2mbps ADSL link so it must be slow when only one person is online and very slow when several are sharing the access point. By itself, one slow access point in the nation is essentially meaningless, but might it be the first of many?

I have suggested a number of low cost steps the Cuban government could take immediately if they are willing to open the Internet. For example -- how about rolling out WiFi access to satellite links throughout the nation?

Is this an isolated drop in the bucket or an indicator that ETECSA is willing to open the Internet? I suspect it is the former, but maybe ...

Update 3/13/2015

This is a photo of young people sharing the DSL link -- with this many users on line at one time, the service must be very slow -- nobody is watching Netflix.

Update 3/15/2015

Havana Times reported that the connection speed is only 500 kbps, not 2 mbps, the free WiFi connections have been available for nearly 3 months and they have been offering free Internet access at the center library for a year and a half.

Login instructions -- up to 15 simultaneous users

Since this is not a new development, why are they getting publicity now?

Kcho in the news -- why now?

Update 3/19/2015

Isbel Diaz Torres has written a post describing his experience using Kcho's shared link to the Internet. It is no surprise that it was too slow to be useful. In an hour and a half, the only thing he succeeded in doing was reading tweets. He was unable to post a tweet, use Gmail or Facebook, etc.

Needless to say, he found the experience frustrating and concluded the post saying:
The worst part of this isn’t the bad or non-existent service but the logic behind it. As you can see, access to the Internet isn’t presented as a right but as a hand-out, a gift that this magnate of the arts gives us, through a paternalistic, populist and opportunistic gesture towards those who do not have his privileges.
I am puzzled by this "event." It has garnered a lot of publicity -- I have seen more Google alerts and stories on this "breakthrough" than any event I can recall.

No doubt Kcho and anyone associated with the project knew in advance that the connection would be unusable. Does it have any significance? Why did Kcho do it and why did ETECSA allowed it?

Fidel Castro visits Kcho at the Romerillo Studio in January 2014. Photo:

Update 3/24/2015

As we see in the photo above, Kcho is supportive of and supported by the government of Cuba, yet he says the Cuban government should have no fear of the Internet. He does not fear an Arab-style "Cuban Spring." As he put it "Cuba is not North Africa."

This is reminiscent of the debate between Cuban leaders who feared the Internet in the 1990s and those who argued for embracing it. At that time, Raúl Castro argued against the Internet, stating that "glasnost which undermined the USSR and other socialist countries consisted in handing over the mass media, one by one, to the enemies of socialism."

Will he rectify that mistake?

Update 4/5/2015

WiFi access to the Internet was authorized and tested at Kcho's studio for a couple of months before they went public with a very successful publicity campaign. This seems to have been a trial balloon for similar WiFi access points and now ETECSA has announced that there will be more beginning in May -- "¡Viene la WiFi! Ahora sí."

I don't know any of the details like -- what it will cost (Kcho's access is free), whether it will be to the Internet or intranet, what the back--haul speed and latency will be, etc. This still feels like a drop in the bucket -- stay tuned.

Update 4/25/2015

ETECSA has expanded cell coverage and installed a public WiFi spot in in Sancti Spíritus. Unfortunately, they are still focused on SMS and phone calls and the WiFi backhaul is 2 mbps, which they say can be shared by 90 simultaneous users -- unusable.

I understand that this is a short term, interim step, but it is a drop in the bucket. I hope they experiment with other short-term technologies while planning long-term policy and technology.

Update 5/3/2015

ETECSA will increase the number of Internet access "Cyber Points" from 155 to over 300 by late this year. ETECSA Cyber Point access is slow and expensive -- I would be curious to know who the users are and how they are using it. That would be an interesting survey.

Update 5/23/2015

New free, public-access WiFi hotspots are coming on line in Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus.

I wonder how many hotspots ETECSA plans to roll out. I am not sure whether these sites offer access to the Internet or the Cuban intranet and I don't know about connection speed and latency either.

Update 6/3/2015

ETECSA is installing hotspots in Guantánamo and Baracoa. They say they will operate 24 hours a day and handle 50 simultaneous users. One has to wonder what the backhaul speed and radio configuration are if they hope to satisfy that many users. I also wonder whether the undersea cable or satellite will be used for international traffic (if it is available).

If you or someone you know has used one of the new hotspots, please let us know what it was like.

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