Cuba’s road networks may be filled with cars from the 1950s, but its information network is finally entering the 21st century with the arrival of public Wi-Fi in Cuba.
Last month, Cuba’s Castro government announced that it would unveil 35 public Wi-Fi spots in 16 cities across the country. The government’s goal is for all Cubans to have Internet access by 2020.
For a country where the government has held such a tight grip on the dissemination of information for so long, such widespread public connectivity would be unprecedented. It was only in 2008 that Cubans were given the right to use cellphones and computers were given the OK in 2007. According to the International Telecommunication Union, only 3.4% of Cuban households have Internet access—one of the lowest rates in the world.
Currently, there are an estimated 150 public Internet cafes in Cuba, many of them in popular tourist hotels and hangouts, where prices can reach as much US$7 or US$8 per hour. With the new Wi-Fi spots, Cubans can go to the Wi-Fi spots and access the network via state-owned company Etecsa for a US$1.50 connectivity fee plus an hourly rate. Along with the opening of the new Wi-Fi spots, the government lowered the hourly rate from US$4.50 to US$2.
But even US$2 an hour is a steep price for the majority of residents in Cuba, where most life necessities—such as food, education, and health care—are provided by the government and the average monthly salary is only US$20 per month.
“Historically, Cuba has had probably the worst Internet access in the hemisphere. Clearly, the Cuban government has decided that broad Internet access is essential to a 21st century economy. The Internet cafes and now this Wi-Fi network show that the government is serious about expanding Internet access,” William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, told Reuters.
In December, a historic decision between the United States and Cuba was reached to resume relations between the former Cold War rivals. In May, Cuba was removed from the U.S. state-sponsor of terror list, and, on July 20, both countries will formally reopen diplomatic ties with the opening of official embassies.