Last week, Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde announced government plans to expand the country’s underperforming web infrastructure by adding Wi-Fi capacity to dozens of internet centers and cutting the cost of access.
A spokesman for Cuba’s state communications company said that, as of next month, 35 government computer centers would have Wi-Fi at a cost of around $2 per hour - still unaffordable for many Cubans, but a significant step in the right direction (where Wi-Fi was available previously, it cost around $4.50 per hour to access).
Until now, the only Wi-Fi availability in the country has been at tourist hotels. While critics say the lack of connectivity is down to fear of social unrest, the Cuban government insists the problem is a result of the U.S. embargo, and has publicly stated an intention to expand internet access across the island.
The recent move is indicative of the government at least beginning to make good on its promise. Another positive indicator of a shift towards the open internet access enjoyed by other countries was the government-approved Wi-Fi spot provided by Cuban artist Kcho. Established at Kcho’s Havana arts center, the spot has attracted praise from open internet advocates in Cuba and around the world who hope it is the thin end of the wedge for fairer web access in one of the world’s least-connected countries.
Cubans - and especially young people living in the capital - are as au fait with computer technology as their contemporaries in other, better-connected countries. Visitors might be surprised to see iPhones and Androids in use all over Havana; hundreds of mobile-phone stores number among Cuba’s private businesses, all of them offering ways to install offline apps, as well as providing the usual repairs.
Things look less developed outside the capital, where there are far fewer cellphones per head, and smartphones are extremely thin on the ground. But at least, with the recent slashing of prices (by more than half) for web access, Cuba is moving slowly towards the inevitable future of a fully connected citizenry.