The Cuban populace has had connectivity issues with the 35 new Wi-Fi hotspots on the Island. Cuban state run journal Granma released an article on July 28th describing how the Cuban people are having a problematic time accessing these hotspots through their mobile phones. ETECSA, the Cuban state telecommunications company, has a policy for access where the users connect to the hotpots through temporary cards. These pre-paid cards last for only 30 days at  a cost of 2 CUC per hour (approx ($2 USD); which is more the average Cuban’s daily wage.

This temporary card system is inefficient on its own right, but the average Cuban mobile phone cannot connect to these hotspots due to the low-end bandwidth capabilities of their cellphones. The new hotspots bandwidth is designed for connection via laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The average Cuban owns a simple mobile phone and the vast majority do not have access to higher end devices, ie smartphones, tablets, etc, to connect to the internet. Samsung mobile phones have also had issues accessing internet at the new hotspots. The only way Samsung mobile phone users have found to connect to the internet is by deactivating the SIM card during Wi-Fi use.

Hardware issues with these new hotspots are not the only issue, as the actual web portal used to gain access is also proving problematic. The web portal from which accounts are managed and basic operations such as changing passwords, recharging the phone (refers to as “prepaid minutes”) or transferring an account balance from one account to another has raised doubts from users. This page, where navigation is free and does not consume data, should be opened from a browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.), after which you have to enter the address of the user and authenticate with username and password, so that it opens properly. This complexity leads to many errors, and therefore, headaches for the average hotspot user.

The limiting nature of these hotspots stunts the “growth” of the Cuban people in being able to communicate and access information. A Microsoft blog post, which was interestingly enough quickly removed from their website, alluded to Microsoft developing an initiative called Empower Cuba at a Microsoft sponsored Hackathon. Empower Cuba would heavily use the new hotspots on the island to simply empower the Cuban populace through the use of technology. A Microsoft promoter of Empower Cuba, Sacha Arozarena Valladares, describes the Cubans as “hackers by nature” due to the Cuban’s everyday struggles of living on an island proliferated with archaic technology. Sacha believes that the hackathon could help foster innovation on an island that has been isolated for decades.

The Cuban government’s unwillingness to expand Wi-Fi, or even speedily address current issues with the limited connection points that do exist, points to a pattern of behavior on the part of the Cuban government to deliberately delay, and more so inhibit open internet access for the vast majority of the Cuban people. In fact, many Granma readers did not hesitate to make known their views on the new wireless connection installed in the country. They complained the download speeds are so slow that readers have a hard time downloading a 110 kilobyte video. Some of them write in the comments section of the state run media outlet that instead of solving problems “so that customers do not have to face them, they ask the customer to solve them.” The Cuban government’s reluctance to help the populace actually forces the hands of Cubans to become these “natural hackers” and find a solution on their own terms. But eventually, that may be for the better, especially if it leads to tearing down Cuba’s cyber wall, and connecting Cuba once and for all.

To learn more about what you can do right now to help “Connect Cuba”, please click here.

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