The Complicated History of Cuba's Internet

As Obama visits Cuba this week, Talkin' Cloud reflects on key dates in the country's history with the Internet

Nicole Henderson, Contributor

March 22, 2016

2 Min Read
The Complicated History of Cuba's Internet
Cuban President Raul Castro (L) greets then US first lady Michelle Obama and US President Barack Obama (R) at the Palace of the Revolution March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This was the first time a sitting US president has visited Cuba in 88 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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As US President Barack Obama visits Cuba this week, the first time a sitting US president has visited the country since 1928, Talkin' Cloud looks back at Cuba's complicated history with telecommunications and the Internet.

Cuba has a low Internet penetration rate of 30 percent, according to 2014 data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), up from 28 percent in 2013 and 14 percent in 2009.

Why is it so low? For one, costs remain prohibitive for many Cubans, and the infrastructure is lacking. There are two state-run Internet Service Providers (ISPs), giving Cubans little choice for Internet connectivity and mobile phone services.

Could improved relations with the US change that? On Monday, Obama announced that Google was working on bringing improved access to WiFi and broadband to Cuba.

Based on numbers and data from Freedom House, here are some key dates in Cuba's Internet history:

2008: Cuban government begins allowing Cubans to buy personal computers after nearly a decade-long ban

2012: Government-owned telecommunications firm ETECSA eliminates fees for receiving phone calls within Cuba

2013: ALBA-1, a 1,600KM high-speed undersea cable stretching between Cuba and Venezuela, is activated

June 2013: Citizens are able to access the Internet through broadband connections to the new fiber-optic cable at 118 government-run "navigation halls"

March 2014: Users can send and receive emails on their phone but only with a .cu email account

May 2014: Cuban authorities start to dismantle wired or WiFi-based LANs created by citizens in some Havana neighborhoods

July 2014: French telecom Orange Digital Horizons signs secret deal with ETECSA to offer its services, products and prices to the local operator and share expertise

December 2014: US President Barack Obama announces that the US will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba

January 2015: Officials plan to open 136 more Internet access centers around the country by the end of 2015

February 2015: ETECSA temporarily reduces hourly charge for using Internet at navigation halls and state-run cybercafes from $4.50 an hour to $2 US per hour

March 2015: US carrier IDT Corp reaches accord with ETECSA to provide direct international long distance calls

April 2015: Cuban government pledges to expand home connections to 50 percent of the population of 11 million people, and mobile Internet connections to 60 percent by 2020

July 2015: Cuabn government opened 35 paid public Wi-Fi hotspots; lower prices of $2 US per hour go into longer term effect beginning July 1

March 2016: During US President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba, he announces that Google is working on a deal to bring WiFi and broadband to Cuba

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About the Author(s)

Nicole Henderson

Contributor, IT Pro Today

Nicole Henderson covers daily cloud news and features online for ITPro Today. Prior to ITPro Today, she was editor at Talkin' Cloud (now Channel Futures) and the WHIR. She has a bachelor of journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto.

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