Friday, September 4, 2015

In a nation with nearly no Internet access, a little bit gets a lot of hype.

In mid June, Cuba announced a plan to provide public access at 35 WiFi hotspots. As we noted, 35 WiFi hotspots is a drop in the bucket for a nation with over 11 million people, yet they have received a lot of press coverage.

A Google search found 651 articles with all of the words Cuba, WiFi and 35 in the title since mid June when we reported the story. Google finds over a million hits for stories with those words anywhere in the post and virtually all major news outlets -- from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and Fox News covered the WiFi roll-out.

The same thing happened when ETECSA began offering public access to the Internet in "navigation rooms," when they announced a plan to make outdated DSL service available to half of the Cuban homes and when a Cuban artist called Kcho opened a single WiFi access point at his studio.

Cuban artist Kcho received world-wide attention for a single WiFi hotspot.

In a recent Havana Times post, Irina Echarry paints a realistic picture of the "Many Unsolved Problems of Cuba’s Wi-Fi Hot Zones" -- the overcrowding, long lines, discomfort, lack of privacy, cost, danger, etc. I am happy to see Cuba take a few halting steps toward a modern, open Internet, but, as Echarry shows us, the reality does not justify the hype.

Update 9/14/2015

The hype continues as Raúl Casto and Panama's president Juan Carlos Varela visit Kcho's studio. I wonder if President Obama would stop by for a photo op if I were to open my home WiFi router for use by people in my front yard? After all, I have a much faster connection to the Net than Kcho.

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