First free public Wi-Fi hotspot comes to Cuba

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

A Havana-based cultural center has become home to the first free public Wi-Fi spot in Cuba, a major breakthrough in a country where Internet access costs a reported $900 each month.

great wifi

According to PC Mag, the center is run by a well-known local artist named Kcho and is visited by well over a dozen youth every day. The speeds are described as slow in comparison to the US and other parts of the world, but for the residents of Havana, it is most welcome nonetheless.

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Due to the expense, it is estimated that only 5 to 25 percent of all residents of Cuba have any form of Internet access, BBC News explained. Many of those who cannot afford the monthly fee, one hour of Internet access can cost $4.50 – almost a week’s wages for the average worker.

Champion of Cuba

The new hotspot is only available because Kcho volunteered to leave his Wi-Fi access open to the public. The artist is said to be close to the government, and those ties likely gave him an edge in negotiations. The move has been approved by the Cuba’s state-run telecom, ETECSA.

“This is an unusual thing, and it’s only possible through the will to do it and absorb the costs,” Kcho, who said that his connection reaches speeds of 2Mbps but declined to reveal how much it cost, told the Associated Press (AP) Thursday. “It is expensive, but the benefit is tremendous… I have something that is great and powerful. I can share it, and I am doing so.”

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The AP added that the connectivity rates in Cuba are among the lowest in the world, that dial-up accounts are “closely restricted” there, and that home-based broadband access is “almost unheard of “ in a part of the world where the average monthly salary is approximately $20.

Cuba’s online capabilities were strengthened back in January 2013, when a fiber-optic cable that ran undersea from Venezuela was completed and went online. However, authorities in Cuba state that its bandwidth must first be used in places deemed beneficial to society, such as schools and the workplace. Critics argue that the government’s regulations have been too strict.

Recently, hundreds of Internet hubs have been opened at the aforementioned cost of $4.50 per hour, but the wire service noted that the speeds are far lower than those now available at Kcho’s cultural center. In fact, a report issued by Akamai Technologies last year found that Cuba as a whole lagged behind the global average of 3.9mbps, and well behind the US’s 10Mbps average.

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BBC Cuba correspondent Will Grant said, “Many analysts in Cuba see this as a small but potentially significant step. What seems clear is that no such Internet access could happen without the tacit approval of the authorities, who may well be using Kcho’s initiative to test the waters of allowing greater Internet access on the island.”

However, “this move is still far from universal internet access for Cubans,” he added.

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