Internet Access and Social Media Engagement in Cuba

Posted on March 21, 2019 by Media Culture

Internet access in Cuba

In the 58 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, a lot has changed in the United States.

Cuba, on the other hand, became frozen in time. As its iconic 1950s American classic model vehicles (still in use) can attest, the outside world has been largely kept at arm’s length by a mix of internal and external forces. When listed among the many issues that have plagued the Cuban people, Internet access in Cuba may seem like a relatively flippant concern, but the truth is that after 60 years of state-controlled media, internet freedom might be the only one that really matters in 2019.

State controlled media in Cuba

As in other Communist countries like China and North Korea, State-run media means something a lot more weighty in Cuba than it does in, say, New Hampshire.

These are places where the people are fed handpicked information on a daily basis and have been for generations. Many don’t know that they can or should be frustrated with their governments, or what to do about it even when they do realize there’s a problem. And who could blame them when everything they’re told is so carefully positioned?

This is why when the Cuban government allowed its people to begin buying Internet access packages for 3G on December 6, 2018, it was kind of a big deal. Prior to this offering, most Cuban residents could only connect to State-run email unless they were at one of just a handful of government-sponsored WiFi hotspots. For its part, the government of Cuba was only able to gain access to an underwater Internet backbone in 2011 with the help of Venezuela; the public WiFi hotspots didn’t open until 2015.

Cuba has been carefully monitoring the use of the Internet by the people of the island since then. Squeezing the trigger slowly seems to have been a major priority, since it rejected a plan by Google to substantially expand access to the public the same year those hotspots opened. The hotspots are monitored by the government, so they can presumably also block sites that are deemed subversive. Cuba wouldn’t have likely had that level of control over a Google-driven Internet connection.

On the heels of 3G, 4G forges ahead

Now that 6.4 million of Cuba’s 11 million residents are using the Internet and social media, authorities have given the go-ahead to the testing of the same kinds of Internet access for 4G networks. The very limited testing will start in Havana, Cuba, where residents have been using at least 2.5 GB of data per month in the few months since the Internet has been opened up to them.

The Cuban people are eager and ready for news from the outside world, but they’re using all that data for internal affairs, too. For example, the Sube app has become a favorite ride-hailing app of the Uber and Lyft persuasion. This is just one way life in Cuba changed irrevocably and overnight when the Internet came to the country in December.

Increasing speeds to 4G means that Sube users, as well as video bloggers and other members of the media inclined to question authority, will be able to get their information to those people they want to reach faster. Will it spell a new chapter for Cuba or become the source of revolution of the likes that brought the Communist Party to power in the first place? Only time will tell. But, Cuba won’t be the first time capsule to see its culture and lifestyle changed by the Internet in ways it may not be able to anticipate.

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