Cuba to expand public Internet access

Cuba to expand public Internet access

HAVANA - Agence France-Presse
Cuba to expand public Internet access

People reflected in the window line up at a post office as they wait to use the Internet in Havana. Cuba will offer more access to the Internet. AP photo

Cuba will expand limited public access to the Internet next month by opening up another 118 places where people on this communist-run island can surf the Web for a fee, authorities said May 28.

Set to start June 4, the extension takes advantage of an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela and will gradually be rolled out further but not to homes, according to a Communications Ministry resolution published in the Official Gazette and local media.

$1.5 for e-mail checking

The notification says members of the public will be able to access the Web for $4.5 an hour, down from the current $6 an hour, or check their e-mail for an unchanged $1.50.

These services “can only be accessed from the navigation rooms,” said the resolution, which specifically ruled out the installation of Internet connections in homes.

There are now more than 200 public Internet rooms in hotels on the island that sell connection cards that cost between $7 and $10. Post offices also provide access to email. With Cubans making an average of $20 a month, the reduced fee likely won’t make much of a difference to most locals.

“As low as they may seem, they are still high in comparison with salaries we earn,” Tania Molina, a doctor, told Agence France-Presse. “So we’ll continue as before.” Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet access in Latin America: the number of users was 2.6 million in 2011 out of a population of 11.1 million, according to official statistics.

Most Cubans access the Internet in their places of work or study, as only doctors, journalists and certain other professionals are allowed to connect from home. In January, state telecom agency Etecsa announced that an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela had been activated for experimental use, the first hard-wired link from the island to international telecom networks.

Havana has been unable to join other undersea fiber-optic cable networks due to a U.S. embargo in effect since 1962. Because of this, Cuba had connected to the Internet via slower satellites.