According to AP, a young group of Cubans who have been cut off from the Internet “have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can’t access.”

The article points out that “home Internet connections are banned for all but a handful of Cubans, and the government charges nearly a quarter of a month’s salary for an hour online in government-run hotels and Internet centers. As a result, most people on the island live offline, complaining about their lack of access to information and contact with friends and family abroad.”

In response, a “small minority have covertly engineered a partial solution by pooling funds to create a private network of more than 9,000 computers with small, inexpensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city. Disconnected from the real Internet, the network is limited, local and built with equipment commercially available around the world, with no help from any outside government, organizers say.”

“We really need Internet because there’s so much information online, but at least this satisfies you a little bit because you feel like, ‘I’m connected with a bunch of people, talking to them, sharing files,” said Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno, a 22-year-old electrical engineer who helped build the network known as SNet, short for streetnet.

“Outside observers and many Cubans blame the lack of Internet on the [Cuban] government’s desire to control the populace and to use disproportionately high cellphone and Internet charges as a source of cash for other government agencies.”

Joining SNet requires resources out of reach of many people in a country where the average salary hovers around $25 a month.

There is no obvious indication the U.S. or any other foreign government or group had anything to do with the creation of SNet, making it by far the most impressive example of Cuba’s homemade telecommunications engineering.

The network is a series of connected nodes, powerful home computers with extra-strong Wi-Fi antennas that communicate with each other across relatively long distances and distribute signals to a smaller network of perhaps a dozen other computers in the immediate vicinity.

“It’s proof that it can be done,” said Alien Garcia, a 30-year-old systems engineer who publishes a magazine on information technology that’s distributed by email and storage devices. “If I as a private citizen can put up a network with far less income than a government, a country should be able to do it, too, no?”

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