Thursday, March 3, 2016

Might Cuba's street net, SNET, become legitimate?

In earlier posts, I have described Cuba's community mesh network, Street Net (SNET), and its relationship to the government. Cachivache Media has just published a post (in Spanish) on SNET, adding to my earlier description and suggesting that the government may legitimatize it.

More on that later, but first a description of SNET.

SNET is over 8 years old and, while it is well known to the government, they have turned a blind eye toward it (while cracking down on others). SNET has grown during those eight years -- it now extends from Cotorro to Bauta, a distance of over 30 kilometers.

SNET provides more services than I had realized. It has social networking (similar to Facebook), FTP (file transfer) for content sharing, live music streaming, software for download, forums for developers and engineers, poetry, literature, comics, sports and much more.

I have suggested (hoped) that Cuba might be a source of innovation, that they might evolve a uniquely Cuban Internet, reflecting Cuban culture and politics. SNET reflects Cuban values in that it is cooperative, free, non-commercial and self-sufficient. Users buy, install and maintain the equipment and administer the network. (It is reminiscent of the Internet culture when Cuba first connected to the Internet in 1996).

SNET has a strict code of behavior -- there is no talk of politics or religion, vulgar language, sexualized avatars or pornography and no connecting to the Internet. As such, it has been tolerated by the government. SNET, like El Paquete Semanal, satisfies the people without posing a threat to the government.

Speaking of El Paquete, a legitimatized SNET would compliment a legitimatized Paquete Semanal. A robust SNET could be used for the distribution of Paquete content to local distributors and end users.

The article suggests that the Ministry of Communication is working on a new regulation that would legitimatize SNET. A legitimate SNET could expand into areas like e-commerce and online education, while providing employment. (There is speculation that El Paquete Semanal is Cuba's largest private employer).

It sounds like they see SNET evolving into a government service, operated by government employees, rather than a private enterprise, but I may be wrong about that and doing so would be a mistake.

While I would not want to see SNET operated by the government, government could provide support. For example, in facilitating communication and standardization among local people building and operating SNETs and in making large quantity equipment purchases. (I've suggested a similar approach to installing local area networks in schools).

If SNET is legitimatized, I hope they reach out to share information (both ways) with community networks in other nations -- particularly with the Guifi network in Spain. (I bet they already have). I also hope the restriction on Internet connections would be dropped and that ETECSA would provide high-speed backhaul.

This is all speculative, and a bit rosy. Even with government support and cooperation, there is a lot of overhead in a mesh network, It would be interesting to see some data on the network architecture, amount of traffic at different times, numbers of users, speed and reliability as experienced by the end user, etc. (How do they connect users in Bauta and what sort of performance to they see)? As an open network, I would expect SNET to provide that sort of data.

Copyright is another hurdle. Like El Paquete Semanal, a considerable amount of SNET content is pirated. If the government were to legitimatize and perhaps operate SNET, I think they would have to work out some sort of copyright agreement.

A legitimate SNET would have to be considered in the context of Cuba's overall short and long term networking strategy. I hope the experiment continues and evolves -- we can all learn from it.

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