Cuba introduces mobile internet access

When Americans think about Cuba, nostalgia often points to things like the island’s 1950s American cars that continue to line city streets and occasionally coast along Cuba’s mostly-empty highways. But more than nostalgia for particular things that have remained in a sort of amber in there due to Community captivity, there has been something like a nostalgia one feels for a way of daily life that existed prior to globalization, commercialization, the internet, and mobile devices. It wasn’t just that being in Cuba felt isolating when I visited in 2010, rather it was that the ten days I spent there felt like something close to time travel. Andrea Rodriguez reports on how that is changing, specifically on the impact of mobile internet access:

In the 2 1/2 months since Cuba allowed its citizens internet access via cellphones, fast-moving changes are subtle but palpable as Cubans challenge government officials online, post photos of filthy school bathrooms and drag what was one of the world’s least-connected countries into the digital age. Communist authorities, in turn, are having to learn how to deal with more visible pressure coming from outside of party-controlled popular and neighborhood committees.

“Life has changed,” said Alberto Cabrera, 25, who is part of the team that developed the Sube app. “You see it when you walk down the street. The other day, looking from the roof of my house I could see that a neighbor had mobile internet service, as did the person in front and the person beyond him. You never saw that before.”

In the first 40 days after Dec. 6, when people could start buying internet access packages for 3G service, 1.8 million Cubans on this island of 11 million purchased the services. A government report last week said about 6.4 million residents use the internet and social networks.

Previously, nearly all Cubans could use mobile phones to link only to their state-run email accounts unless they connected to the internet at a limited number of government-sponsored Wi-Fi spots.

“We are in a process of learning about how to use the data” packages, said Claudia Cuevas, 26, a university professor and member of the Sube team. “Before you went to the park (with Wi-Fi zones) once a week to communicate with your family.”

The history of the internet in Cuba has been rife with tensions and suspicions since it began in the 1990s. Cuba’s government accused Washington of blocking its access to the fiber optical cables near the island, forcing it to use an expensive and slow satellite service. It was only in 2011 that Cuba got access to a submarine cable with the help of Venezuela. And it wasn’t until 2015 that the general population gained access through the opening of Wi-Fi points in hundreds of parks. …

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel opened a Twitter account prior to December and recently ordered all his ministers and senior leaders to do the same. But many of them only retweet official messages or propaganda slogans without providing their own content or answering citizens’ questions.