Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

Women connect to internet from their mobile phones in Havana, on March 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Cuba expands Internet access, but under a very wary eye

  • Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House

HAVANA: All Cubans can now have Wi-Fi in their homes, as the island’s government extends Internet access even while trying to maintain control over its version of the “truth” and to defend its legitimacy, a top official tells AFP.
“Cubans support and defend the revolution in every domain, both in the real and the virtual worlds,” Ernesto Rodriguez Hernandez, vice minister of communications, said in an interview.
In his eyes, the Internet and social media are tools to “position the truth of Cuba, not to manipulate things,” giving them a key role in the political and ideological battles being fought at a time of sharp diplomatic tensions with the United States.
The telecommunications sector in Cuba — once one of the world’s least connected countries — has doubtless changed more than any other in the past year.
Since December, when mobile phones gained 3G connectivity, an active online community has sprung up on social networks, often questioning the government about the challenges of daily life on the island.
Since July 22, Cubans have been able to import routers, register their equipment, and then create private Wi-Fi networks connected to signals from state-controlled operator ETECSA. No longer do Cubans have to go to centralized public sites to connect.
“The objective of the country is to provide wider and wider Internet access to the entire populace,” the vice minister said.

But the technical requirements set out by new legislation would appear to put an end to the informal networks created in recent years by groups of residents. Such control is the “sovereign right” of the Cuban state, Hernandez says.
And connecting is not cheap — $1 an hour, an exorbitant amount in a country where the average monthly salary is $50. The lowest 3G rate is $7 for 600 megabytes.
For weeks, hundreds of Cubans have been campaigning on social media under the hashtag #BajenlospreciosdeInternet (#Lower the price of the Internet).
Since Wi-Fi’s arrival in 2013, “the cost of Internet access has dropped by a factor of four,” the vice minister says, adding that “it will continue to fall” as communications infrastructure improves.
In this country of 11.2 million, 1,400 Wi-Fi hotspots have been installed, 80,000 homes now have Internet access and 2.5 million Cubans have 3G connectivity.
But the communist government is moving forward cautiously. “The technology is not apolitical, as some try to present it,” Hernandez said, but instead is “manipulated and used.”
Arguing for the need to “educate” the population, he added: “It does no good to provide Internet service to those who do not know... how to distinguish between what is useful and what is harmful; not everything on the Internet is good.”

A series of decrees and measures published in early July in the island’s official Journal call for “responsible use by citizens” as well as both “the political defense and cybersecurity in the face of threats, attacks and risks of all sorts.”
The message is clear: the Internet must be an “instrument for the defense of the revolution,” under regulations to be enforced by the Communications Ministry with the help of the “revolutionary armed forces and the Interior Ministry.”
In short, the Internet will continue to be closely monitored by the authorities, as it has been from the start.
Only a small percentage of the Cuban population can access the global Internet, as opposed to the government-controlled national Internet, according to the NGO Freedom House. Blogs and websites critical of the government are frequently blocked.
Hernandez defended that practice as normal.
“We don’t share those Internet sites that can encourage discrimination or deal with subjects that go against morality, ethics and responsible behavior,” he said.
“It is a right of every state to protect its people and their society from practices of that sort — and I believe that every country in the world does so.”


Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

Updated 19 August 2019

Alaska man discovers 50-year-old message in bottle from Russian Navy

  • Then Russian Navy Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko wrote the letter when he was a 36-year-old aboard the Sulak
ANCHORAGE, Alaska: A man discovered a 50-year-old letter in a bottle from the Russian Navy on the shores of western Alaska.
Tyler Ivanoff found the handwritten Russian letter early this month while gathering firewood near Shishmaref about 600 miles (966 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, television station KTUU reported.
“I was just looking for firewood when I found the bottle,” Tyler Ivanoff said. “When I found the bottle, I had to use a screwdriver to get the message out.”
Ivanoff shared his discovery on Facebook where Russian speakers translated the message to be a greeting from a Cold War Russian sailor dated June 20, 1969. The message included an address and a request for a response from the person who finds it.
Reporters from the state-owned Russian media network, Russia-1, tracked down the original writer, Capt. Anatolii Prokofievich Botsanenko, KTUU reported.
He was skeptical he wrote the note until he saw his signature on the bottom.
“There — exactly!” he exclaimed.
The message was sent while the then 36-year-old was aboard the Sulak, Botsanenko said. Botsanenko shed tears when the Russian television reporter told him the Sulak was sold for scrap in the 1990s.
Botsanenko also showed the reporter some souvenirs from his time on the ship, including the autograph of the wife of a famous Russian spy and Japanese liquor bottles, the latter kept over his wife’s protests.
Ivanoff’s discovery of the bottle was first reported by Nome radio station KNOM.