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.”


Saudi Arabia to host region’s largest global gaming tournament

Updated 18 October 2019

Saudi Arabia to host region’s largest global gaming tournament

  • The PMSC World Cup will be staged at Riyadh Front from Dec. 12 to 14
  • 16 teams from the Middle East and North Africa region compete with 16 teams from the rest of the world

RIYADH: Thousands of gamers and fans from around the globe are expected to descend on Saudi Arabia when the Kingdom hosts the prestigious PUBG MOBILE Star Challenge (PMSC) World Cup for the first time later this year.

Taking place in the capital during the Riyadh Season festival of activities, the region’s most popular mobile game will test the skills of a top international field of players.

The PMSC World Cup, set to be staged at Riyadh Front from Dec. 12 to 14, will see 16 teams from the Middle East and North Africa region compete with 16 teams from the rest of the world.

Event organizers are due to officially announce the total prize money up for grabs, but the pot is expected to top more than SR1 million ($267,000).

PUBG MOBILE has taken the world by storm since its release in 2018 with in excess of 400 million downloads. Its involvement in Riyadh Season is being hailed by gaming influencers as further indication of PUBG MOBILE’s commitment to bringing innovative technologies to the region.

PUBG MOBILE is based on “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” the phenomenon that took the world of interactive entertainment by storm in 2017. Up to 100 players parachute onto a remote island to fight in a winner-takes-all showdown.

Players must locate and scavenge their own weapons, vehicles and supplies, and defeat every player in a visually and tactically rich battleground that forces contestants into a shrinking play zone.

Decoder

What is PUBG?

PUBG stands for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. It is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed and published by PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole.